Newsom’s education agenda: More of the same means more failure

While school mask mandates have garnered headlines, Californians should be as concerned about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed education agenda, which he championed this week in his State of the State address. It pours more tax dollars into a failing system without any requirement for better results.

Newsom proposes total education funding of $119 billion — a record amount — for K-12 programs, which would translate to nearly $21,000 per student.

The big question is whether Californians will receive bang for their tax bucks. Answer: don’t count on it.

Take the fact that most California students cannot read proficiently.

Even before the pandemic, 82 percent of low-income California eighth graders failed to perform proficiently on the 2019 National Assessment for Educational Progress reading exam. Further, 53 percent of non-low-income eighth graders also failed to score proficiently.

Unsurprisingly, California has the nation’s lowest literacy rate.

Newsom proposes allocating $500 million in grants to high-needs schools to train and hire literacy coaches and reading specialists to help struggling students. There are several problems with this proposal.

First, as the testing figures show, many students with reading problems are not just in high-needs schools.

Second, what are those reading specialists and coaches going to teach? Will these additional instructors simply offer more of the same?

Oakland parent Megan Bacigalupi recently wrote that her son, who has dyslexia, has been taught reading with a “balanced literacy” approach, which “includes language instruction focused on context and meaning, with little emphasis on systemic phonics.”

According to Bacigalupi, “In a ‘balanced literacy’ classroom, a child could see a picture of a horse and the word ‘horse’ below it in a book, guess the correct word is ‘pony’ instead of ‘horse,’ and be correct.”

She said that such “guessing and cueing” do great harm to kids like her dyslexic son.

David Banks, the new schools chancellor in New York City, has called the city’s balanced literacy program a failure, especially for black and brown children, and is returning to a phonics-focused approach.

Bacigalupi says that “schools should be held accountable for their literacy data and required to adopt a curriculum that is in line with the science of reading.” Yet, prospective teachers “continue to be taught the balanced literacy approach in their teaching programs.”

While Bacigalupi calls for current teachers to be given “support to abandon balanced literacy curriculums,” Newsom’s budget does not adequately push schools to ditch failed learning models. Don’t expect Newsom’s new reading coaches to teach outside of the reigning reading paradigm, which will likely guarantee more costly failure in the years to come.

Newsom also proposes more than $1 billion to expand state Ppreschool and transitional kindergarten programs to “provide pre-elementary students with the skills and tools needed to succeed in school.”

However, there are serious warning flags that this will also be money thrown down a rat hole.

A Vanderbilt University study of Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten program found participants scored lower on tests and had greater discipline problems than non-participants.

The results “offer a cautionary tale about expecting too much from state pre-K programs.”

“Expanding transitional kindergarten is perhaps the least rational, least cost-effective way to provide pre-K education, yet we’re moving forward without much care,” warns Eric Premack, head of the Charter Schools Development Center.

Indeed, Newsom’s budget is a wish list for the public education establishment.

“The budget reflects a strategy of throwing billions of dollars at a wall and hoping it sticks,” says Premack, with the new and expanded programs reflecting “a lack of basic planning.”

So what is California going to get from Gavin Newsom’s education budget? Answer: happy teachers unions, more bureaucracy, and, sadly, more kids falling farther behind. No wonder homeschooling is booming.

Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.

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.

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