Sunday, June 21, 2009

Missing the Mark on Education

AP missed the mark in a recent article on education in California. The entire column focuses on how the current financial crisis will reduce per capital funding and increase class sizes, which will destroy education in the state.

Unfortunately for this premise, California was spending less per pupil and taxing less per capita adjusted for inflation when it had a model educational system, great roads and a free California State University education for every lawful resident who wanted one.

California now ranks low on education even though it has some of the toughest teacher credentialing standards in the U.S. (to my knowledge, only New York is similarly difficult).

Our schools, even during the massive income years of the recent past, haven't performed well when flush with money. In fact, they seem to perform poorly no matter how well they're funded. Something else is going on, and if we're going to solve the problem, we have to look at it honestly and figure out what it is.

Pouring money on a problem doesn't usually solve it unless the money is used well. There's a lot of waste and mismanagement in California school districts as anyone in the system for a while can attest. I taught for two years, and have a friend who has been teaching for nearly two decades, a large portion of that in the Oakland, California school district. I saw corruption during my brief involvement in the profession. My friend has seen it on a much grander scale.

The "65 percent" solution might help, mandating that at least 65 percent of all funding go directly to classroom expenses. Detractors claim this strict guideline isn't actually helpful, but given what I've seen of administrative misuse of funds, I'd like to examine more data before I agree it's not effective.

It isn't just money we're misusing, though. We waste time. Any teacher will tell you that in California approximately the last month and a half of class time is spent on testing and assessments of various kinds. When you're using 15% of your school year on assessment instead of instruction, you'll convey less information to your students.

It's notable that part of the reason for the strict yet ineffectual credentialing and massive amount of assessment is that our legislature passes laws based on what feels good, so every time someone wants to tell their district they're pro-education, they pass another law toughening credentialing or adding testing, regardless of how that actually affects our schools.

Other problems in California include the fact that many of the cultures within the State don't emphasize education as important and a large portion of the population doesn't speak English.

California is out of money to spend on anything, so we no longer have the luxury of pretending this is just a problem of funding and class size.

It's time to study what other states are doing right and implement their strategies here rather than remaining mired in failed ideology.

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