When the Pacific Research Institute asked business leaders about what makes California an unattractive state to locate or expand their companies, one respondent said, “Every single thing you can imagine.” And, among the many complaints from business leaders is the pitiful quality of California’s public education system.
Asked about California’s education system, nearly 63 percent of executives surveyed by PRI said that the quality of education in the Golden State would be a major factor in their location decisions. Many business leaders voiced concern about whether the state’s education system was producing the highly skilled workers they are seeking for their companies. Student achievement indicators show that their concern is well founded.
On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, a shocking 55 percent of non-low-income California eighth graders taking the exam failed to score at the proficient level in math. Even worse, 57 percent of non-poor eighth graders failed to hit the proficient mark in reading. Thus, large numbers of California’s middle-class and more affluent students are not proficient in the core subjects. It is no wonder, then, that many students must take remedial courses in English or math when they enter college, which in turn reduces their chances of being ready for the workplace.
There are avenues of hope, however. The education technology revolution has created new learning models that offer students better learning opportunities and better outcomes.
For example, blended-learning models, which combine computer-assisted learning with traditional bricks-and-mortar classes, have proven successful.
PRI’s book Moonshots in Education cites the success of Summit public charter schools in implementing a blended-learning model, where cognitive skills such as writing are taught by teachers, but students also spend 16 hours a week acquiring other skills and knowledge through the use of the school’s online resources.
Key to student learning are so-called topic playlists, which include guided practice problems, presentation, videos and more. Students take short assessments to determine if they have mastered the content and can then move on to new topics.
These technology-assisted innovations have resulted in Summit students considerably outperforming average student proficiency levels.
In order to facilitate the introduction of such successful learning models into schools, the PRI survey recommends better pre-service teacher training in the use of digital education tools. Also, obsolete rules on student-teacher ratios, school funding formulas, and other key education areas should be revamped to acknowledge the possibilities created by the education technology revolution.
Business leaders told PRI that they believe that one of California’s big positives is its well-earned reputation for being “a big high-tech hub.” California needs to use that high-tech advantage to improve the quality of its education system and start producing more workers ready for the demands of the 21st-Century economy.
Lance Izumi is the senior director of PRI’s Center for Education and the Koret Senior Fellow in Education Studies. He is the author of numerous books, most recently An American Education Agenda and The Corrupt Classroom.