The state superintendent discussed K-12 education and the challenges students face in school districts with dwindling resources as part of an education forum held in San Francisco Thursday afternoon.

The head of the California Department of Education, Tom Torlakson, made remarks and spoke on a panel at the Public Policy Institute of California 2012 Speaker Series on California’s Future at the institute’s Bechtel Conference Center in the Financial District.

At Thursday’s event, “The Future of Education in California,” moderated by PPIC president Mark Baldassare, Torlakson touched on several topics, including infusing “education optimism” into lawmakers and voters, following up on research to establish high-quality education plans and using technology to modernize state classrooms.

Torlakson also spoke about the importance of preschool to close the achievement gap and increasing science, technology, engineering and math learning to provide students with more career opportunities down the line.

“We have all these aspirations but at the same time we have a huge crisis,” he said about budget cuts affecting education.

He repeated throughout the discussion that California should be investing in its children.

The fall election came up when the superintendent shared his support for propositions 30 and 38.

“There’s a big role the state has to play in financing,” he said.

Prop. 30 is a sales and income tax increase backed by Gov. Jerry Brown intended to push money toward education. Prop. 38 would also raise taxes for schools.

He said this fall voters should be focused in investing in students, especially after some schools have seen budgets slashed up to 25 percent.

Alameda County Office of Education Superintendent Sheila Jordan praised Torlakson’s efforts to push the state to join the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium last year.

Jordan touted the consortium’s emphasis on problem solving instead of regurgitating facts.

Torlakson noted high achievement should not be based solely on math and language arts test scores, but by how well teachers integrate technology, lower dropout rates and the use of art in the classroom, among other tools.

Jordan, along with panelist Michael Hanson, the Fresno Unified School District Superintendent, spoke how policy impacts individual districts, which serve a variety of students, many living in poverty and with limited English skills.

Jordan emphasized supporting administrators to keep classrooms–and in turn, students–strong.

“Teachers can be most effective with strong leadership,” she said.

She also noted, “children have to come school ready to learn,” which requires policies that support low-income families with proper health care, nutrition, housing and other needs to keep students in prime learning condition.

The PPIC is located at 500 Washington St. The institute is a nonpartisan group that engages in discussion and research on policy in economic, social and political issues.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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