Still Not As Good As You Think: 2009 Update on Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice

Still Not As Good As You Think: 2009 Update on Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice

In 757 California public schools with predominantly non-disadvantaged, mostly middle-class students, 50 percent or more students in at least one grade level performed below proficient on the 2008 state tests.

This is an update of Pacific Research Institute’s groundbreaking book Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice, which was released in 2007 and made into a film in 2009. The book examined the academic performance of “middle class” public schools in California. The new report, Still Not as Good as You Think, found that in 757 schools where one-third or fewer students were considered disadvantaged, 50 percent or more of the students in at least one grade failed to reach proficiency on the 2008 California Standards Test (CST) in English or math.

The update also includes results for public schools where 20 percent or less of students were classified as disadvantaged. Among such schools, 528 had 40 percent or more of their students fail to perform at proficiency in at least one grade level on the English or math CST in 2008. Of these 528 schools, more than eight out of 10 were in zip codes with median home prices of $300,000 or higher.

“While many parents and policy makers recognize the need for reform in schools in poor, urban neighborhoods, the study confirms the need for reform in middle class and even affluent schools,” said report co-author Lance T. Izumi, Koret Senior Fellow and senior director of Education Studies at PRI.

Many underperforming schools are located in California’s most affluent areas including Orange County, Silicon Valley, and Beverly Hills.

  • Poor student performance often occurs even though the education level of the parents is relatively high.
  • Most of the underperforming schools have very high portions of teachers with full teaching credentials.
  • The authors of the 2009 update recommend creating a school-choice system where funding follows a student to whichever school he or she attends. The portable funding system allows parents to choose a public or private school that they feel best meets the needs of their children.

“A universal school-choice system would allow middle-class parents burdened by high mortgages and other debt to move their children immediately out of their underperforming or failing neighborhood public schools,” said Mr. Izumi. “In order to empower middle-class parents in California and across the nation we should look at Sweden’s highly popular universal choice model where education funding follows the child to the public or private school of his or her choice, and which has led to greater competition, increased student achievement, and higher parental satisfaction.”

The study provides school-by-school data on the percentage of students that performed below proficiency in the CST English and math exams; the median price of the homes in the neighborhood; the educational levels of parents; and the percentage of teachers who have regular teaching credentials.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.