Ax Over Schools’ Defender


As a member of the State Board of Education, and before that as a private advocate for better public schools, Reed Hastings found ways to bring more money to schools, raised standards and kept them high when it would have been much easier to lower them.

Hastings -- who has a day job as chief executive of Netflix -- supported the high school exit exam but pushed to delay its implementation when it became clear that students hadn’t been adequately prepared for it. He’s a big booster of charter schools but moved against charters that wasted taxpayer money or weren’t doing their job. As a result, California has one of the most effective charter school movements in the nation.

Hastings has shown that he cares more about students than ideology. Yet a state senator with a grudge has a clear shot at derailing his reappointment at a Rules Committee hearing Wednesday.


Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) is still seething over Hastings’ vote two years ago for a requirement that schools give students in primary grades at least 2 1/2 hours of English immersion a day in order to receive federal reading funds, even if those students are in bilingual education. Proposition 227 ended bilingual education for most students, but about 10% of California students are still in such programs because their parents requested waivers.

Hastings overreached with that vote, which was rightly overturned by the Legislature. Students in bilingual education still get daily English instruction and are steadily moved toward fluency. And Prop. 227 entitles parents to request bilingual education. Escutia has a couple of other bones to pick with Hastings, both of them having to do with her concern that he hasn’t done enough for English learners.

Hastings, then, has not led a mistake-free tenure on the board. But overall, he has been one of the best champions that schoolchildren, including Latino and other minority students, could have.

Hastings led the campaign to allow school construction bonds to pass with a 55% majority, instead of the usual two-thirds. As a result, countless children, including those in cash-strapped urban districts, now attend classes in new or refurbished buildings. When the federal No Child Left Behind Act made it easier for schools to be labeled “proficient” if states lowered their academic standards, Hastings led the board in keeping California’s standards high and in aligning state tests to those standards.

Escutia is entitled to air her differences with Hastings, but her tunnel view of school policy should not lead lawmakers to dump a strong education leader.