Education in California
There’s no way around it. Regardless of your political affiliation, you have to face the fact that—by any reasonable standard—our public school system in California is absolutely failing our children.
According to California Facts (cafacts.org), 79% of low-income 5th graders aren’t proficient in math. (And in case you think this label only applies to a few students, 59% of California’s 6.2 million students are low-income.)
In the United States, California is currently ranked:
49th (Fourth grade reading scores for low-income students), and…
50th (Fourth grade math scores for low-income students).
(And California metrics for other achievement standards are similarly dismal.)
Let’s face it - this is pretty much the definition of “dead last.”
And yet… our spending per-pupil has been going up steadily over the past few years.
So… how did we get so lost in the weeds, and how do we find our way back?
Let’s look at a few major areas where I want to make changes. Changes that will benefit our students and the state as a whole…
The Role of Government.
Parents know best what the educational needs of their children are and how well their local schools are—or are not—meeting those needs. It is therefore imperative that educational policy and standards are determined by local and state government. Federal one-size-fits-all mandates are by definition incapable of meeting the local needs of our children… our future.
We need to support the greater flexibility, autonomy, and local authority provided by the bi-partisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015. But we need to be the ones making the spending decisions. Our local school districts need to spend money on education, not on federally-mandated programs, which are drafted by people (sometimes far away and sometimes non-teachers) who have no real knowledge of our specific educational needs here in California.
Yes, the federal government can help, primarily by funding infrastructure, educational research, and other enabling activities. (After all, it’s our money. California is among 13 states that ship more tax money to Washington than they get back in federal spending, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a public policy think tank in Albany, N.Y.) But we must stop them from micro-managing our local governments when it comes to educational methods. As an example, Common Core has a number of good recommendations. But it goes too far when it attempts to mandate the actual method of instruction. It basically says, “We in Washington know better than your teachers—who are in the classroom with your children every day—when it comes to deciding exactly what and how to teach your children.”
It’s in our country’s best interest to promote parental choice and encourage involvement in their children’s education. Too often, low-performing schools are located in low-income communities. Public school choice gives parents the option of sending their child to the school that best suits their child’s needs. It also creates healthy competition among public schools so the local districts are motivated to be their best.
We need to support school vouchers. Many students—due to learning methods, areas of interest, school size, or other considerations—are best served by specialized private schools. These children deserve the chance to reach their full potential. Vouchers enable parents to give that chance to their children.
In short: We need to put an end to the idea that the federal government knows better than parents and teachers when it comes to deciding where and how our children are educated.
More Funding to the Classroom
No amount of funding—federal or otherwise—will help our students unless the money gets to the students. Our school system is top-heavy, with too much going to administration and not enough to school equipment and teacher salaries. Again, this is taxpayer money—we must demand that our government provide a better value for the funds we are already sending to Sacramento and to Washington.
Teachers are the lynchpin of our entire educational system, and they absolutely deserve fair pay for their work… this enables us to hire and retain the best teachers possible. But their promotion, pay, and retention should be based on merit, not just seniority. The best teachers should be rewarded and teachers who are not adequately educating our children should be incentivized to improve or should be replaced.
This is a vital issue, near the top of everyone’s mind—whether you currently have children in school or not—as we see the horrific results of a few deranged individuals seeking to wreak havoc on their peers through some misguided notion of revenge.
The first thing we need to do is stop intentionally making it easy for them.
Regardless of which side you’re on, the “gun control” issue won’t materially change the situation for years, if not decades. There are already over three-hundred million firearms in the U.S. (one for every man, woman, and child in the nation… or over two and a half per American household) and they aren’t going anywhere soon.
Yet we persist in making our schools the very softest of soft targets, going out of our way to declare them “gun-free zones.” What if there were armed security personnel (trained, certified, and professionally competent) on duty at our schools whenever there were students on campus? And what if it were widely known that these trained officers would meet any lethal threat to our children with immediate deadly force, following the “Active Shooter Protocols” now currently taught to our law enforcement officers? This would have an immediate deterring effect on an individual who would otherwise think he could just wander into a school and shoot whoever he wants with impunity (because we’ve told him there are no guns anywhere near the campus).
Additionally, we need to put in place a simple, no-guilt/immediate-action protocol whereby a teacher or councilor can alert the authorities if they witness threatening statements and/or behavior by a student… and the authorities will take mitigating actions.
These are simple, common sense precautions already in place at nuclear plants, airports, banks, casinos, and even select residential neighborhoods. Isn’t it time we gave the same level of security to our children?
Instead of “gun-free zones,” we need our schools to be “assault-free zones.”