"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reaping the Reagan Revolution

Now almost 30 years after California's Prop 13, we can see the devastating effects of starving the public schools while pursuing the idiocy of fake accountability through non-stop testing. Too bad the current movie star governor remains in denial. From San Jose Mercury News:

With student achievement lagging far behind other states, California must overhaul public education and infuse billions of dollars more every year into schools, according to the first part of a much-anticipated, comprehensive study unveiled Wednesday.

The report, commissioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top lawmakers, said fundamental and deeply rooted problems plague public education - but money is only part of the solution.

Researchers at 32 universities and institutions, led by Stanford University professors, documented an under-funded, overly complex, inflexible, inequitable - and ultimately ineffective - system.

The study suggests changing the way the state finances and runs schools, easing up on rules, giving educators more flexibility - including making it easier to fire ineffective teachers.

Among the problems cited:

Compared with other states, California offers teachers tenure more quickly - after two years.

The state follows a complex and irrational system for distributing money to districts.

California lacks a data system that tracks students, learning, teachers or resources.

The state imposes too many mandates on schools, which spend money to meet regulations rather than to serve students.

California has higher ratios of students to teachers and students to administrators than other states.

"Our education system needs serious structural reform," Schwarzenegger said Wednesday as lawmakers, researchers and leaders of foundations that paid for the report gathered in Sacramento. How much will it cost to enable students to meet state achievement goals? One estimate in the rest of the report to be released today says the state would need to increase annual education spending by at least $23 billion - or 40 percent of what it spends today.

Schwarzenegger proposes spending $56.8 billion in 2007-08 - about 40 percent of the state budget - on education.

Yet that funding is distributed in a byzantine system, varying wildly among districts, with the gap between rich and poor widening when parent volunteer time is factored in.

In 2005-06, per-pupil spending in Santa Clara County ranged from $6,621 in the Evergreen School District in San Jose to $13,089 in Palo Alto. In the tiny Lakeside Joint School District in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which had 77 students, spending was $15,434 per student.

Governor's agenda

Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that he hopes to make 2008 the year of education reform. But that could be politically dicey.

Making it easier to dismiss lackluster teachers and reward others could run afoul of the powerful California Teachers Association, a key Democratic constituency. Republican Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, has promised not to raise taxes, which makes increasing school funding complicated. The dollar amounts involved make everyone skittish, and all sides worry they could detract from the other findings.

"Even though we are making all these great investments in our kids, it's the system itself that must be fixed," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor deflected questions about rescinding Proposition 13 - the landmark 1978 initiative that limits property taxes - or substantially boosting education funding. "The problem is the way the money is being distributed," he said.

Somewhat ironically, the report points out that California excessively regulates schools, including parallel reporting regimens to meet state and federal testing rules. . .

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