School Reform News (The Heartland Institute), May 1, 2008
A February 15 report card from the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a free-market think tank based in California, evaluated and graded 17 aspects of California’s K-12 education system, finding the state’s performance disastrously poor.
Among the factors evaluated are the state’s education accountability system, standards tests, graduation rates, coursework, and school finance system.
Although many people suspect the state’s public education system is not performing well, the reality is far worse than they imagine, according to the report. The state scored six Fs, five Ds, four Cs, one B, and just one A.
“This is not a report card that any student would want to bring home to his or her parents, and it’s not a report card that I am proud to deliver to the California taxpayer,” said Lance T. Izumi, PRI’s director of education studies.
PRI’s 2007 California Education Report Card: Index of Leading Education Indicators is the fourth edition of a report the group first issued in 1997.
Grades Are In
According to the report, increased funding has accompanied poor student performance:
- School Accountability System = F.
It will take decades for many low-performing schools to raise performance to proficient levels on the state’s Academic Performance Index (API), and most low-performing schools are not subject to any accountability whatsoever.
- California Standards Test = F.
Only about four in 10 students in grades two through 11 scored at or above the proficient level in English language arts and math in 2006.
Finance System = F.
Inflation-adjusted funding per pupil has increased 27 percent over the past decade, but too much money is being wasted on state programs that have yet to show success. Also, the state continues to create new education programs, most of which have no accountability mechanisms to prove their worth.
Dropout and Graduation Rates = D-.
About three in 10 California high school students entering ninth grade fail to graduate four years later, and more than four in 10 African-American and Hispanic students fail to graduate.
- Course Difficulty = D.
Fewer students in California are taking difficult math and science courses compared to the national average and to other large states such as Texas. A large majority of students are not taking university preparatory courses.
English Language Learners = D+.
California has no methodologically sound way of comparing year-to-year student progress on the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), the state’s main instrument for determining the fluency of English Language Learners (ELLs). Also, because of perverse financial incentives, many school districts don’t reclassify ELLs as fluent when they meet CELDT proficiency standards. Significant numbers of ELL students are not reclassified for 10 years.
- Standards = A.
California has one of the best sets of academic content standards in the nation. The problem is they are inconsistently implemented in the classroom.
Teachers Want More Money
The California Teachers Association (CTA), the state’s largest teachers union, says the state’s public schools are doing just fine.
“California public schools have been making progress. Reading and math scores are up,” CTA President Barbara Kerr said in a radio ad broadcast this spring. “But further progress will be tough without more resources.”
“Spending on public education has gone up dramatically, but the way that tax dollars are spent has not changed much over the years,” Izumi said. “And on some programs, California Department of Education officials still have no idea where the money goes or what it does.”
More Money No Solution
The PRI report card is intended to help fill that void. It “provides us a meaningful examination of today’s education system and dares us to tackle the difficult questions people are afraid to ask,” said state Assemblyman Martin Garrick (R-San Diego), vice chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.
Policymakers and newspaper editors alike are beginning to realize education reform involves more than just spending more money.
According to a March 6 editorial in the Orange County Register, “when aspirations and striving still earn F’s and D’s after years of increased funding and ‘reforms,’ we believe the solution lies elsewhere. … We suspect parents allowed to spend vouchers for their children’s education won’t settle for schools earning D’s and F’s. They’re likely to shop for schools where their vouchers buy a better education. That’s missing in California’s D- and F-heavy public schools.”
“Californians need to spend less time debating how much should be spent on public education and should spend more time focusing the discussion on what works in raising student achievement,” Izumi said. “Finding effective answers to this question will lead to improvements in the quality of education services, the performance of students, and ultimately the future of the Golden State.”