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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Tale of Two Bills

This month California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law two bills that directly affect the arts. One is a step in a positve direction, the other, a crushing blow.  

California Assembly Bill 1330 marks a huge victory for advocates of vocational and career tech education. For decades the voctional arts have been absent from California public schools for no other reason than they presented the possibility that perhaps students could be “tracked” into vocational training instead of allowing them to choose a college preparetory course of study. As the drop out rate in California climbed towards eighteen percent, advocates of vocational education argued that not all students want to attend college and for those that don’t, a curriculum replete with college prep academics and little else offers little relevancy and no job preparedness.

AB 1330 debuted in 2010 as AB 2446, penned by Assemblyman Warren Furutani D- Long Beach. It was vetoed in September of that year by then Governor Arnold Schwarzegger who refused to sign the bill based on its construct; as written, there were no provisions for schools and districts regarding the added costs that such a bill would imply. A little more than a year later, AB 1330 is essentially the same bill lacking essentially the same provisions but this time it received the Governor’s blessing. The bill allows students to count one vocational class as credit towards graduation- substituting the current requirement of a fine art or foreign language elective.

While some are hailing its victory, arts advocates are worried that this may be the first step in the decimation of arts and foreign language studies. For many schools and districts throughout California, the only reason that arts programs were retained instead of being axed by budget cuts was because of the ten credit high school graduation requirement. Without that requriement, districts may move to offer less fine arts classes, move them to online only courses or not offer them at all. State schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson supports the law and sees it as a move toward “restoring relevancy”. Executive Director of the California Alliance for Arts Education Joe Landon sees it differently. “We regard career technical education as essential in a complete education that prepares students for the future. We also strongly believe that students lose when one subject matter is pitted against another.”

Signing the bill into law also deviates from the college preparetory path that California has been advocating for the last decade. In some districts, students are requried to graduate prepared to enter the University of California system. By substituting a vocational class for a fine art or foreign language a student would be ineligible to qualify for UC acceptance. The process for designing arts classes to meet UC requirement standards has been long and tedious and many fear that all the work required to elevate the arts to UC acceptability levels will have been for nothing if schools begin to drop classes and programs in favor of career tech courses.

A more promising victory for arts advocates came with the signing of SB 789 a two-year bill which calls for the development of a committee to review the idea of an Index of Creative and Innovative Education for K-12 public schools. Promoters of this bill are calling for the restructuring of how students are assessed. They want to see performance based indicators with an index that would identify best practices that support creativity and innnovation in arts education as well as other subjects incuding science, math, technology, engineering and business.

The move to include creativity and innovation in the design of a new state assessment protocol is monumental. It reflects a sense of visonary forethought currently lacking in public education today. Using creativity as the core of all curricula would be an astounding way to level the playing field regarding the achievement gap and would propel public education forward to meeting the goals of twenty first century workers, thinkers and designers.

Both bills are slated for the 2012- 2013 school year. It is unclear what the reprecussions of either will be yet. Schools are not equipped to jump in and offer a broad range of career tech classes. Instructors have to be trained, classrooms/ shops need to be set up, equipment purchased and curriculum designed. The reinstitution of vocational education will require hours, dollars and training- all of which could have been avoided if California had not systematically dismantled the programs to begin with over twenty years ago. Perhaps that should be the disclaimer to districts, especially in regards to arts education, to think before deleting any class or program that benefits students regardless of whether or not it fits with current educational idealogy.Trends come and go, bills get signed in and out, but the needs of kids almost always stays the same.

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