Public Education is Failing

Writer and Political Commentator

Public education in California is remarkably expensive and a
spectacular failure.

For years, public education was a source of pride in California and
the envy of the other 49 states. However, decades of mismanagement
and poor decisions have dropped us to the bottom of the national
list, barely able to beat out such educational juggernauts as
Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

A quarter of all California high school students drop out. That
number increases to one in three in the massive Los Angeles Unified
School District, with some high schools showing a more than 50%
dropout rate. For those students who do make it to their senior year,
more than 10% are unable to pass the California High School Exit
Exam. This ridiculously easy graduation standard requires students to
get 55% of 8th grade-level math questions correct and 60% of the 10th
grade-level English questions right.

At least the California Teachers Association, which has everything to
do with teachers and very little to do with education, can take
comfort in knowing that through their efforts, our teachers are the
highest paid in the country.

With plans to spend $68 billion this year, K-12 public education is
the largest and most important business in the State of California–
and the business is failing. Every important measure is negative –
literacy and graduation rates are down, violence and dropout rates
are up. The education business is responsible to their shareholders—
and that’s us.

How’s this for a report card? We have more students than any state in
the union and spend more money than any other state (as well as most
countries), with the most notable expenditure being those top-tier
teacher salaries. At one point we had the best K-12 system in the
country. Now? Our kids drop out at an alarming rate, students are
routinely promoted to the next grade with the full knowledge of
teachers and administration that they are not prepared, almost 50,000
high school seniors a year cannot pass an exit exam that is a joke,
and those who do graduate are rewarded with a diploma that the
business community regards as almost valueless. The most powerful
political force in the state, the California Teachers Association,
refuses to allow teachers to be held accountable for their actions
and results, and insists on their protection through tenure.

Those in the education industry tell us that the only answer is more
funding. They ask (demand) for billions of additional dollars. They
grow indignant if we ask what they plan to spend it on, but do
promise us improvements in unmeasured results. They rail against No
Child Left Behind (which asks for accountability in reading and
math), fight the California High School Exit Exam, and consider
tenure sacrosanct.

A system that promotes failing students and protects failing teachers
is, by definition, failing. The days of funding without
accountability and responsibility must end. Californians are having
a tough time keeping jobs, buying homes, filling gas tanks and
feeding families. As we look at a deficit closing in on $20 billion,
our K-12 system is the most expensive item in the state budget.
California public education has become a sad commentary on our
values, our state and our future. It is time for us to take back our
schools, to demand that our children are educated and prepared to
enter a job market where they compete with workers from around the
world.

Here’s a simple True or False test for our California public educators:

Education is more important than tenure.

A high school diploma should represent 12th grade level abilities.

The stigma of a lifetime without the ability to read and write is
worse than the stigma of failing a grade.

California taxpayers deserve accountability for our $68 billion.

Good teachers should be rewarded; bad teachers should be fired.
The answer to all five is “True.” Let’s raise expectations, of both
the students and the teachers. Let’s reward both for succeeding.
Let’s work together to once again make California public education a
source of pride. While $68 billion is a pretty compelling number,
there is one even more important – 6.3 million. That is the number
of students currently in the public education system who are trusting
that we will educate them and preparing them for a successful
future. Let’s not disappoint them any longer.

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