This time of year, education takes center stage as students of all ages
return to school. Yet this is not an ordinary fall.

Higher education in
California has reduced the number of classes being offered and the
number of students being admitted due to budget cuts; and K-12 public
education is facing more students in many classrooms due to the same
budget cuts. Here in Los Angeles and across the nation, teacher
evaluations have attracted the spotlight due to President Obama’s "Race
to the Top" and a series of articles by the Los Angeles Times.

Last Friday, the president of the University of California, the
chancellor of California State University and the chancellor of the
California Community College System were at the Chamber to discuss the
state of higher education in California on the 50th anniversary of our Master Plan for Higher Education.
All three leaders emphasized the changes that budget cuts have caused
at their institutions; and at the same time they voiced appreciation
for the confidence that the public has in California’s system of higher
education, and a continued commitment to maintaining quality and
meeting the needs of as many California students as possible.

They also highlighted the urgent need for action from the business
community in support of education funding – using words like
persistence and collaboration. Only with persistence can we change the
current status quo and only with collaboration can diverse perspectives
turn stalemates into progress.

The debate over whether or how to use student test scores in evaluating
teacher performance is an example. For years, teacher unions,
administrators, school boards and parents have discussed in committees
and task forces ways to evaluate and reward teachers other than the
long-standing measures of seniority and number of credit hours beyond a
bachelor’s degree. The Obama Administration made teacher evaluations
based partially on student test scores a cornerstone of their education
agenda. Many education reform activists, business leaders and some
teachers whose skills in the classroom had never been acknowledged
cheered, while objections continued from many teachers and union
leaders. But today, I see a willingness by principals and teachers and
their union leaders to come to the table for a spirited conversation
about designing an evaluation and development process that eliminates
poor performers, supports principals and teachers in their professional
growth, and opens the door to replicating, reinforcing and rewarding
the many highly skilled teachers that work in our schools.

The next step is for the district and the teacher and principal unions
to craft a sound evaluation method that is fair and accurate, as well
as one that will help us recognize the truly great teachers along with
methods they use to succeed. To what end? The benefit of the students
in our classrooms!

As a former teacher, I am excited that people are talking about
education and have decided that all of us, not just educators,
administrators and parents, have an important role to play in pressing
for more funding, and in demanding excellence from our students,
teachers and administrators. The seeds of reform are beginning to take
root. And like our children, it’s our responsibility to ensure that
they grow.