Governor signs bill to let pupils evaluate teachers

High schoolers will now be able to evaluate their teachers thanks to legislation signed this week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And pending before the governor is a bill that would attempt to lower the dropout rate by requiring the state to track student absentee data, and another that would clarify that school employees receive pension credit for furloughed days.

Legislators have been scrambling this week to meet a Tuesday deadline for passing bills out of both houses. Often these final days of session are marked by fast policy rewriting, backroom deals and lawmakers forced to eat meals during committee meetings to keep up with the hectic schedule.

But in the midst of it all, the governor signed State Sen. Gloria Romero's SB 1422. The bill will allow high school student governments to create a committee of students and teachers to write a teacher survey for pupils to fill out once a year.

For the first time, students have a voice in their education," said the Los Angeles Democrat in a statement "This is a historic, trendsetting and unique bill that is one component of the larger national conversation on teacher evaluations and the public release of student achievement data."

The voluntary survey would be for the teacher's eyes only, unless the teacher provided written consent to allow administrators or district officials to view them. The surveys would not be for collective bargaining, personnel records, or to be used in the existing teacher evaluation process.

Still awaiting the governor's pen is legislation by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg that would require the California Department of Education to include chronic student absentee data in the California Longitudinal Achievement Data System, as long as federal funds were received to support it.

Under SB 1357, local educational agencies would receive chronic absentee rates in order to help school officials identify students at risk of dropping out. The truancy data, coupled with data on student performance and disciplinary actions, would guide the development of "early warning systems" to help principals, teachers, and parents support struggling students.

"We all know that dropping out is a process, not a specific event, and the process is marked by many indicators along the way, including school attendance - and the flip side of attendance is excessive absenteeism," said Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in a statement.

Steinberg's bill would also require the State Superintendent to include "chronic absentee rates" in the Annual Report on Dropouts in California.

Finally, Assemblyman Hector De La Torre's AB 1651 would give classified school employees compensation credit for furloughed days through the California Public Employees Retirement System. The credit would be extended for furloughs that occurred after July 1, 2008.

It is important to note that a reduced school year does not necessarily count as a furlough. The furlough designation would need to be declared through local bargaining agreements.