Gov. Jerry Brown had two opportunities to improve educational outcomes. He embraced one, a bill to extend the ability of some community colleges to award four year degrees, but vetoed another, which would have protected sleep-deprived adolescents from having to attend early classes.
The Legislature gave Gov. Jerry Brown two opportunities to make it easier for young Californians to get the education they – and we in the larger society – need.
He embraced one last week and fumbled the other.
Brown signed Senate Bill 1406, which extends for three years a pilot program that allows a few community colleges to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees in a few technical fields.
The initial results of the program have been positive. Participating colleges awarded bachelor degrees to their first cohort of baccalaureate students this year.
California’s economy depends on having an educated workforce and the state’s existing four-year schools are incapable of handling the demand. Allowing community colleges to expand their academic reach has worked well in other states and in California so far.
It would have been better had the Legislature either removed all limits on the program or extended it for at least a decade. However, expansion faces stiff opposition from the defenders of the educational status quo, so a modest extension is all that could be accomplished this year.
Brown vetoed the second measure, Senate Bill 328, which would have prohibited middle and high schools from beginning classes before 8:30 a.m. with some exceptions.
“This is a one-size-fits-all approach that’s opposed by teachers and school boards,” Brown said in his veto message. “Several schools have already moved to later start times. Others prefer beginning the school day earlier. These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.”
Thus, without using the word, Brown once again invoked his secular – and political – version of the religious principle of “subsidiarity” to justify leaving class start times to local school boards.
It is, however, a local control doctrine he invokes when it’s politically convenient to duck a tough issue and ignores when it’s politically expedient. For instance, under pressure from teacher unions, he didn’t hesitate to limit school district budget reserves.
Moreover, while Brown regularly ridicules climate change skeptics for ignoring scientific evidence, in rejecting SB 328 he ignores the massive scientific and medical evidence that starting classes early in the morning, while convenient for adults, damages sleep-deprived adolescents’ ability to learn.
As a legislative staff analysis of SB328 pointed out, “The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are among the organizations and experts that have reported on the harm being done to the physical and emotional health of adolescents due to the sleep deprivation caused by such developmentally-misaligned school hours.
“Similarly, researchers report that academic success and school attendance is greatly improved by later starting school days. The recommendation made by the American Academy of Pediatrics – and supported by the AMA, CDC, and others – states that no middle or high school should begin before 8:30 a.m. Other organizations add that no elementary school should begin before 8 a.m.”
Only a very few school districts have been willing to buck opposition from teachers and some parents and start classes later, and left to their own devices, as Brown says, the vast majority will stick with earlier classes.
A statewide law, such as SB 328, is no more intrusive or onerous than laws governing other aspects of school management, such as establishing a minimum number of instruction days each year.
Brown, who has raised no children, obviously doesn’t get it. Maybe his all-but-certain successor, Gavin Newsom, who has children, will.