Hoover’s year-end list cites CA as good, bad and ugly

California's parent trigger" law has earned the state a spot on the Hoover Institution's Top 5 best education events of 2011.

But Gov. Jerry Brown's signing of legislation shortening the school year to deal with budget shortages also landed the state on the Stanford-based think tank's list of the five worst education events of the year.

The annual listing, compiled by Hoover's Koret Task Force on K-12 education, is designed to inform the public and shape education reform in the upcoming year.

"We evaluated hundreds of events, laws, programs, and studies in creating this list," said Bill Evers, a Hoover research fellow and project coordinator in a statement about the group's findings.

The right-leaning institute reserved the top slot in its best event category' to any and all efforts promoting greater school choice via opportunity scholarships and vouchers. Running second was legislation adopted in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey, Idaho, and temporarily in Ohio - that rolled back collective bargaining agreements.

Meanwhile, Hoover gave the Atlanta Public Schools' cheating scandal designation as the number one worst education event in 2011.

Number two on the worst list was given to a "slowpoke" Congress and a "Constitution-oblivious" president for their collective "bungling" in reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

The Hoover team had high praise for the state's Parent Trigger program - adopted last year as part of an unsuccessful application for Race to the Top. The program, which has drawn considerable national attention, allows for parents through a petition process to force restructuring of a failing school.

"California was the pacesetter here in 2010. Four more states have since passed laws creating such a mechanism, and similar measures are under consideration in dozens of other states," according to a release from Hoover. "The implementing rules promulgated by the California State Board of Education during 2011 are crucial, however; without them, the parent trigger would be mired in legal and procedural disputes."

But Brown's signing of AB 114, under which districts must retain staffing levels in the face of budget tightening - but may cut up to seven instructional days from the school year - was considered the fourth worst education event of the year.

"What is the worst possible way to deal with school district budget woes? Shortening the year," the task force wrote. "But California, always proud of being a leader, has written into law that this is the preferred option when districts face budgetary shortfalls."

The Hoover Institute educators also dinged Brown for vetoing SB 547, which would have revamped the state's standardized testing system, saying the governor "dismissed the use of test-score data and signaled that he'd like to do away with testing altogether."

Task force chairman Chester E. Finn, Jr. said in a statement that in 2012, task force members will continue to support "strengthened academic standards, expanded school choice, and increased accountability."

During the next year, the presidential race will offer "a national stage to debate education policy" and Congress is expected to rework the major law authorizing federal aid to education. Finn says that "2012 should be filled with opportunities for improving schools and enhancing students' learning."

The Top 5 Best Education Events of 2011:

1. Reinvigoration of school choice via opportunity scholarships and vouchers.

2. The rollback of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey, Idaho, and (temporarily) Ohio.

3. California State Board of Education's rules that allow the "parent trigger" to operate.

4. Former DC chancellor Michelle Rhee's teacher-evaluation system left in place by new mayor Vincent Gray without substantial change.

5. Indiana's overall record of education reform.

The Top 5 Worst Education Events of 2011:

1. The Atlanta cheating scandal.

2. Bungling of reauthorization of No Child Left Behind by a slowpoke Congress and a Constitution-oblivious president.

3. Postponement and delay by Race to the Top-winning states and weak oversight by the Obama administration.

4. Governor Jerry Brown moving California from bad to worse.

5. The unions' victory in Ohio in overturning Governor Kasich's collective bargaining reforms.