California – new law aids low-performing schools

Maybe California will get back on track.

Once California’s public schools were the envy of most of the nation.  Most of them worked well, and proved very attractive to new businesses who needed well-educated workers for increasingly complex and technical jobs.  Then the state lurched to a “don’t spend” mode with Proposition 13, which severely limited tax increases, and the school system began a long slide towards mediocrity.

Growth in the Las Vegas, Nevada, schools is driven in part by people fleeing California for better schools. 

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports a change in attitude in the top levels of government:

SACRAMENTO – A sweeping $3 billion agreement to give hundreds of low-performing schools smaller classes, more qualified teachers and additional counselors was revealed yesterday by the Schwarzenegger administration and the California Teachers Association.

The proposal would create one of the largest pilot programs in state history, targeting 600 struggling schools heavily populated with minority students.

What a unique idea!  Who would have thought that targeting low-performing schools with money to improve education would, you know, improve education? 

Meanwhile, other states struggle with “reform” efforts designed to take money away from struggling schools.  Nation to education:  “The floggings will continue until morale improves.”

The article details the education bill a little:

The article explains the education parts of the bill:

California Teachers Association President Barbara Kerr lauded the pilot schools plan, saying it includes “things that our members have said make experienced teachers go to our schools of greatest need and helps the kids the most.”

As the plan abruptly surfaced in the Assembly Education Committee yesterday, there were complaints about the lack of time for review and questions about whether class-size reduction, while popular, improves education. Some critics also said such spending decisions should be made at the local level.

With the support of the powerful teachers union and Schwarzenegger, Senate Bill 1133 by Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, seems headed for passage before lawmakers leave town.

The bill allocates $3 billion from a settlement announced in May of a lawsuit filed by the teachers union against Schwarzenegger for underfunding the Proposition 98 guarantee two years ago.

The settlement with the teachers union, reinforced by the new agreement, helps Schwarzenegger deal with education funding issues raised by his Democratic challenger in the governor’s race, state Treasurer Phil Angelides.

The estimated 600 schools in the pilot program would be selected from applicants among 1,600 low-performing schools whose scores on statewide tests are in the bottom 20 percent.

The schools would have to maintain an average class size of 20 students in kindergarten through the third grade, a current requirement, and an average of 25 students not to exceed 27 students in most fourth-through 12th-grade classes.

The schools would have to have at least one credentialed counselor for every 300 students. Using a new index, the average experience of teachers would have to equal or exceed the district average.

The schools also would have to move toward a three-year goal of improving their test scores. Pupil attendance and graduation rates also would be expected to show improvement.

Schools in the pilot program would receive an additional $500 per pupil for kindergarten through third grade, $900 for fourth through eighth grade, and $1,000 for grades nine through 12.

The teachers union said schools with test scores in the bottom 20 percent have 134 percent more English learners than other schools, 98 percent more students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and 167 percent more parents who did not graduate from high school.

Schwarzenegger’s education secretary, Alan Bersin, said he regards improving the quality of teachers as the No. 1 problem facing low-performing schools.

“This permits our lowest-performing schools to both recruit and retain teachers, and they have to agree beforehand to meet targets,” said Bersin, the former San Diego schools superintendent

6 Responses to California – new law aids low-performing schools

  1. bernarda says:

    That comment about Leno’s selection is well taken. So here is a study from CBS News on geographic knowledge.

    “Even though their country has been at war there for three years, six in 10 young American adults were unable to locate Iraq on a map of the world, a survey found.”

    There are many more examples. The complete study is by National Geographic here.


  2. steven says:

    I taught junior college for several years, and was appalled with the overall low level of competance of a lot of my students. They couldn’t read well, they couldn’t write well, they couldn’t comprehend things well. Some couldn’t perform simple mathematics problems without a calculator. I wasn’t what you would call an excellent student when I attended high school, but I would have been embarrased to hand in the kind of work I was seeing from my junior college students.

    In my work I have dealt with public school teachers from time to time, and I used to be married to one. Some of what I have seen makes me concerned about the caliber of teachers our education schools are putting out, as well as the caliber of some of the teachers that are allowed to continue teaching in the public schools. There are some great teachers out there for sure, but there also seem to be quite a lot of mediocre and worse than mediocre teachers teaching in the public schools. One problem that public education need to be able to deal with is how to weed poor teachers out of the system.

    I believe the quality of public education could be dramatically improved if the public schools were allowed to pay teachers based on how well they teach, instead of how long they have been in the system. Why should the best teachers be paid the same as the worst ones?


  3. edarrell says:

    I think it’s good news that California is looking to improve performance of students in the public schools — I’m not arguing that all is hunky-dory.

    But as to Leno, heaven forbid he should make a similar walk among the delegates to the Republican national convention, or the Democratic national convention. Michael Moore demonstrated that one might get similar results among Members of Congress (that’s my experience, anyway).

    Most people are incapable of accurately answering all of the “simplest” questions of American history and geography. Leno chooses the most outrageous. Certainly in a random walk in Burbank (where the program is taped), he’d run into a few people who are quite knowledgeable in these areas, but we never see them. Why? Because the producers are looking for the wackiest, most silly comments.

    It’s much less representative of what knowledge is among the population than were we to pick the National Merit Finalists from this past season and quiz them on the same stuff.

    One who thinks we can improve education by starving it of money is a good candidate to end up on Leno’s show.

    California still has many outstanding public schools. The state of California education has taken more than 30 years to deteriorate from near-best in the nation to its current state, and it will take many years and many dollars to restore the former high-achievement levels. We cannot afford to be complacent about education, nor can we afford to continue a path of constant hammering at the foundations of public schooling, and expect to achieve great things as we did in the past.


  4. bernarda says:

    If you think young people in California, and elsewhere in the U.S. get a good, or even reasonable, education, you should tune into Jay Leno sometime when he does his Jay Walking segment or has his panel quiz show from people, usually recent graduate, chosen from off the street.

    They are incapable of answering the simplest questions about history, including American, and geography.


  5. DavidD says:

    I also attended California schools before Reagan and had children in California schools during the eighties and nineties. The only differences I noticed between my school and my daughters’ were for the better. They had more AP classes than I could take. Their teachers seemed about the same. Our high schools both had swimming pools, football stadiums, musicals, clubs. Maybe there were some places where budget constraints made it worse for my daughters or worse for their teachers, but I didn’t see it. Maybe other districts had it harder than if Democrats had been perpetually in power, but I find it hard to believe that would have made a big difference. It wasn’t a Republican governor who signed proposition 13 to limit property taxes that funded schools, among other things. It was a plebiscite. People made their choice. I voted against it. I thought if people couldn’t pay their property taxes, they should move. I was outvoted. It’s neither the end of the world nor the end of the schools.

    I’m a lifelong Democrat, but I don’t see how hyperbole about those who aren’t helps anything.


  6. bernarda says:

    I went to California schools in the sixties and seventies. In retrospect, I see that I got a first-rate education.

    That changed when Reagan became governor and started his war on education and finally Proposition 13 passed. Since then, funding for the schools collapsed–not to mention the xtian fundamentalist attack on science. Reagan even led a McCarthyite campaign against university profs that he disagreed with, like Herbert Marcuse.

    Even my home-owner father who is a right-winger voted against proposition 13 because he knew it was welfare for the rich.

    Rethuglicans destroyed the best educational system in America, perhaps in the world.


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