Schools turning out defective products

When a new automobile – either purchased or leased – is so riddled with problems that even the manufacturer cannot fix it within 18 months – a reasonable time period, the vehicle is declared a lemon in California under the Tanner Consumer Protection Act, California Civil Code 1793.22 (2004).

Unfortunately, the same protection is not afforded patrons of the state’s public school system.

Yet thousands upon thousands of high school California’s graduates each year face having to learn either on the job or in college those necessary and basic skills that they failed to learn prior to obtaining a diploma or certificate.

According to a Pacific Research Institute study released Wednesday, July 23, this remedial education is costing California’s taxpayers up to $14 billion each year, and this on top of the more than $44 billion annually that the state is already spending on K-12 education.

California, the golden state, is hardly unique in this matter. A similar study undertaken in Michigan shows that more than a third of that state’s students leave high school without possessing basic academic skills including reading, writing and arithmetic. The cost of remedial education in Michigan, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, was estimated in 2000 at $600 million annually to teach employees and students skills they should have mastered in high school.

Back then, the Mackinac Center calculated, the national cost to remediate these students in 2000 was $16.6 billion.

Not only is this a huge burden on taxpayers, there is also a direct cost borne by California businesses of nearly $450 million in lost productivity and training costs.

Employers have a reasonable expectation that someone who holds a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (G.E.D.) certificate can perform basic mathematical functions such as making change, calculating a percentage or using a measuring device.

It also seems reasonable that high school graduates be capable of using the basic rudiments of grammar, syntax, spelling and punctuation to create basic correspondence in English.

During the mid-1980s, I briefly worked for Janus Books, an educational publishing company based in Hayward, that was producing, among other things, training manuals in the form of comic books for the McDonald’s Corporation chain of fast food restaurants. The same company also sold a comic book to the U.S. Army that showed how to break down, clean, oil and reassemble an M-1 rifle, then considered the infantry’s single most important piece of equipment.

Each comic book described above contained a minimum of words, all taken from a third-grader’s word list.

Quite obviously, throwing mountains of cash at the education system since then has had little effect on the average quality of our graduating high school student. Nor do I believe that slashing huge chunks out of California’s educational budget will do any of our students any good.

If any silver lining can be found in that scenario, maybe those school districts that are too top-heavy with administrators will pare down the overhead. More likely, however, is that the administrators with their bloated pay and benefits packages will retain their jobs while the younger, less-experienced and therefore cheaper teachers freshly hired from area colleges and universities will be forced to consider moving on to another state or changing careers altogether.

And that would be a loss too expensive to contemplate.

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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