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Return to transcript of President Wilson's remarks.
Mr. Carroll: I would like to now introduce the first speaker of the conference, regarding
topics of science and math and language arts standards. Janet Nicholas will be our
first speaker. She is a member of the California State Board of Education and is
involved in private business for her livelihood. She also will be covering two sets
of topics. She will be talking about the history of educational reform in California
and about the California Academic Content Standards. Janet (Applause).
Ms. Nicholas: Thank you very much, and good morning. For those of you who know Maureen
DiMarco, you know she is a very hard speaker to take the place of (Laughter). By
those giggles, some of you know her quite well. When Maureen phoned me and told me
of the situation, and I asked her what it was she wanted to really focus on. She
said quite simply, well, it's Cal State Northridge -- obviously earthquake preparedness
(Laughter). She said Janet, just read them the earthquake preparedness procedure
from that hotel room in Orange County, and then apply it to reform, and everyone
will get it (Laughter). So with that in mind, that's exactly what I'm going to do.
Shortly after the Northridge earthquake, and I know your President and Maureen worked
very, very hard at that, Maureen stayed at a hotel after that, and given the disasters
in California in the early 90's, she read the card in the room that some of us never
read -- it says "what to do in an earthquake -- remain calm. Most earthquakes
last only a few seconds, doing very little damage, if any" -- not too good on
English language arts. As a matter of fact it is very common and a natural phenomenon
in Southern California, numbering in the thousands each year" -- the Chamber
of Commerce did not write this card. "Immediately proceed to the nearest door
way or archway and hold on. If there is no doorway or archway, go under a strong
table or desk" -- now this is a hotel with no doors... "Do not rush for
an exit, leave the building during the quake or use elevators or stairs. Both are
unsafe. After the earthquake, you should remain calm, take time to assess the situation.
If there is any needed medical help, call the hotel operator (Laughter). And unless
instructions are announced over the public address system, you should continue your
normal activities." Then Maureen, said, you know, just fill it in for reform.
That took quite a bit of pondering on my behalf, but let me read you how that might
read if we were discussing educational reform. "What to do during an educational
reform movement. Remain calm (Laughter). Most educational reform movements last only
a few seconds (Laughter). Doing very little damage (Laughter). As a matter of fact,
it is a very common natural phenomenon in California (Laughter). Numbering in the
thousands each year.
"Immediately proceed to the nearest doorway or archway and hold on. If there
is no door way or archway, then get under a strong desk or table. After the educational
reform movement, you should remain calm. Take time to assess the situation, and unless
instructions are announced over the public address system, you should continue your
With that in mind, I would like to briefly highlight a couple of, maybe, observations
on educational reform in California, and what different reforms may or may not have
We constantly hear the call for change or reform in this state, and really it's growing
louder throughout the United States. The clarion call is always to improve our schools,
and that's the one single constant we have heard in California over the past decade.
Yet change or reform is almost never defined. What constitutes "improvement"
quote unquote, of California's public schools? Typically, reformers advocate talk
about structural change. That is, what some refer to as rearranging the deck chairs
on the Titanic. This is the easiest type of reform to achieve. The premise behind
such reform is always, if only we could change the structure, the system organization
of public education in this state, we would automatically improve our schools. Structural
reformers have alternatively advocated centralization and decentralization -- many
layers of control and absolute local control, unification and breaking up. Elected
trustees at large in local schools and district elections; class size reduction,
school governments, councils, local decision making and state leadership.
The process reform, the second most popular type of reform in recent years, confidently
said, all we need to do is change the way we deliver education in public schools,
and they will automatically improve. They have advocated more recently individual
instructions, learning centers, learning contracts, parent contracts, business partnerships,
team teaching, cooperative learning, group learning, open classrooms, block scheduling,
discovery learning, teacher as facilitators just to name a few and the list goes
Perhaps the most difficult type of reform though is one I would like to speak on
detail today, and that is content reform. It rests on the premise which is to me
quite logical, that what we teach in the classroom actually matters, and matters
most. Here too, though, California has had a hazardous record at best. Content reformers
have confidently established whole language, new math, new new math -- the CLAS test,
many of you recall, with a level of pain perhaps. Science was a focus on, quote unquote,
big ideas, and state and federal laws which told local school districts to develop
and adopt standards locally, but standards of what, was never defined.
More subtle is the vocabulary of content reformers, at least in some quarters. They
frequently pose, in my view, false dichotomies. Do we want the children to learn
developmentally appropriate content or just factual knowledge? Do we want them to
be critical thinkers, profound in their understanding? Or just know, quote unquote,
mere factoids such as division, subtraction, multiplication and division?
Academic standards of students, and underline the word "academic" are the
most recent, and I believe the most significant content reform. They are based on
a couple simple premises. First, once again, what is taught in the classroom matters.
And second, academic achievement is not opposed to, but leads to self-esteem. Just
as factual knowledge forms the basis of critical thought.
Several years ago, those were highly controversial statements. In some quarters of
this state, they still are. But in my view, let's face it, it's exceedingly difficult
to think critically or creatively in the absence of any foundational knowledge.
California Academic Standards adopted by the State have been praised and rated highly
by a number of national groups. They are clear, unambiguous and detailed. They provide
teachers, parents and students with a clear articulation of what every child should
know and master each of their school years. Perhaps most importantly, our standards
are by law, rigorous and at a level of high performing countries -- nations such
as Singapore and Japan. In short, they bear little resemblance to what is currently
being taught in California classrooms.
Why standards? California standards and California law provide the answer, at least
in my view to, the critical question typically ambiguous and left unanswered by reformers
-- what constitutes improvement to our schools?
And that answer is a resounding and clear -- student academic achievement. It is
not the structure of our schools. It's not the delivery system. It's our customers
-- students, the citizens of the future of this state.
If we fail to dramatically increase the academic rigor and knowledge of our schools,
we will continue to fail our children and limit their future, as was profoundly stated
from our president. These clear standards of academic rigor at world class level
allow parents, teachers and local communities to objectively measure and compare
their schools' effectiveness. the provide the cornerstone of accountability in public
The good news is, two governors, and numerous legislative sessions, have provided
resources in this state, literally billions of dollars to ensure that teachers receive
training, state frameworks were adopted --the road map to implement standards-- and
schools have money to buy appropriate new standards-based textbooks and critically,
children are individually tested on an annual basis for their skills and knowledge.
The bad news is, which I'm sure comes as no surprise to any of you who obviously
care passionately about education or you would not be here at this hour of the morning
-- the bad news is, we have a long and exceedingly difficult road ahead. Your President
just spoke on the NAEP test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in
both language arts and reading, painting a bleak, bleak picture of the educational
attainment in this state. I won't repeat the numbers and depress you further with
that. Without question, the children who attain world class academic achievement
need to be taught fundamental skills first. Last year's STAR or Stanford SAT-9 test
confirm again those NAEP numbers. State-wide, only 36% of our third graders could
read at a national average, and we all need to remember this is a nation with a reading
crisis. So that is hardly praise, when we look to our 4th graders, 39% of our fourth
graders could perform basic mathematics. And again, a nation we all know is far behind
its industrial competitors in math. California's academic profile on the SAT-9, a
nationally normed test, was similar to one other, quote unquote, state when the test
was administered, and that was the District of Columbia. Achieving rigorous standards
will be a steep and I expect painful climb for many children who are trapped in low
performance schools with low expectations and uncertain exposure to academic content
and skills. These are the skills they will need for the 21st Century. Unless we shine
a spotlight on these schools here and throughout the State, hundreds of thousands
of our children are at risk of being deprived of a future.
The good news is, throughout the State as most of us recognize, Californians are
focused on improving education. We have a unique window of opportunity to make this
happen for all of California's children. What matters most is what goes on in a classroom.
I would encourage each and every one of you to stay focused on proven strategies
that consistently produce objectively measured and reliable results in student academic
achievement. We frankly need your help, and we need it most in terms of your thinking,
your probing questions, your demands for bottom line results. And those results again
are academic achievement of our students. We need you, as individuals interested
keenly in improving education, to act like entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
Please ask and demand answers, and I know that's easier said than done in many circumstances,
but we need those probes. Ask where is the independently confirmed, replicated research?
where's the compelling evidence for this latest idea in California? We know that
ideas will continue to flow, but if we really want to focus on student academic achievement
at a high level, we need you to be probing us all the time, from the State Board
to local school board to a principal to a classroom teacher about where those answers
are. Our public schools, in my view, are about value added. Good intentions of sincere
and extremely well-meaning people are not enough. Our system exists to provide all
of California's children with the opportunity to stretch and reach the highest academic
levels they can. So I encourage each and every one of you, as you go through today
and tomorrow, to think about being our partners in this challenge and holding all
of us accountable. And steadfastly focus on outcomes -- student outcomes, not input
to the system. For if we fail to teach our children during five to six hours a day
we have them in school, if we squander those precious hours in a young child's life,
no amount of volunteer effort, new moneys, or support from parents and communities
can make up for that, and no amount of goodwill will allow today's children to succeed
in the 21st century. Demand more, not less, of all of us in the system. Our kids
certainly deserve no less than to have you as their advocates. I thank you very much.
I just received a hand signal that we will do questions. We have a minor technical
difficulty I'm sure will be corrected now.
Moderator: We have time to take a few questions from the audience.
Audience member: I'm in the School of Education. Let me see if I heard you correctly.
Not to worry about the delivery system or the input in terms of curriculum. Then
I heard you say how important good strategies are. Do we need to be concerned with
the delivery by adopting good strategies.
Ms. Nicholas: That wasn't precisely the question, but that was the summation of it.
The answer is it probably relates to the other factors, but the corollary to that
question is you can have a brilliant structure chart and no academic gains. Many
of you in the private sector have done new organizational charts at least once a
year for several years. I know I have. We reorganize everything. You can look at
delivery systems and do a thematic approach to that. In fact if you don't have content
no matter how brilliant your charts or delivery system are, in my opinion we fail
California's children. There is some importance to organization and some importance
to delivery, but without the content, without the key focus on the bottom line which
to me always has to be student achievement, I think that we lose it all. I hope that
answers your question. (Applause)
Moderator: Can you step to the microphone because we are doing closed captioning
on everything. Will that be possible. Maybe we can have 1 or 2 people to line up
on each side. We want to facilitate the process.
Audience member: . I'm a teacher at Chatsworth High School. Who determines the content?
Ms. Nicholas: We adopted after literally 2 years of hearings throughout the State
what students should be able to do at the end of a particular grade level in their
K-12 career. When that subject or skill is first introduced is entirely up to a local
school district and their system of governance. How it is taught is entirely up to
that local school district and their system of governance and their teachers. What
we have adopted as our system is that we will assess, at the grade level the standard
is in, if that school has done a reasonable job providing their students with that
skill or knowledge. So there really is terrific flexibility in California standards,
but not flexibility in end results. I think that assessment is also important and
when they occur because Californians as we all know move a lot. They move frequently,
they and their children across district lines. There has to be a level of continuity
where a child in School A in the third grade can proceed logically because his or
her family moves to School B in the 4th grade and have a continuity of content.
Audience member: Mrs. Nicholas I wanted to ask you if you can sketch for the audience
how this unfolds in the future. How are we envisioning, beginning to see results
of student performance from setting these standards. Is it going to be next year
or 5 years from now? In terms of how we get feedback about accountability of whether
the students have been learning this and whether the teachers have been successfully
teaching this. How are we doing about putting in place the testing system and so
Ms. Nicholas I will try to briefly answer that. I think you have a panel on testing.
California has a number of components to its assessment system. First there is the
basic skills test, the nationally normed, we refer to it as the STAR or SAT-9 test
which assess basic skills grades 2-11. This year for the first year there was a criterion
reference section based on standards. It was done to provide a base line data of
where we are starting. There is no label attached to that. There is not an individual
student definition at this point in time of whether a student met the basic skills
or not. Next year there will be an English language arts performance level, a base
line attached to that and the following year in mathematics, history, and social
science. I'm just told my time is out. I thank you very much.
Moderator: Let's thank Janet one more time. (Applause)
Moderator: We will now adjourn for a coffee break and reconvene at 10:15.