I attended California public schools, kindergarten through college, starting in the late 1960s through the mid 1980s. While I don’t claim to have received a brilliant education, I did receive a solid liberal arts education. This is especially true when my public education is compared with today’s public education.
School decorum was more formal and professional. Girls in public school in the 1960s were required to wear dresses. Boys were required to wear slacks, corduroys or chinos and were not allowed to wear dungarees. By about 1968, girls were allowed to wear pants to school. A few years later, we were also allowed to wear athletic shoes to school.
Male teachers wore ties every day, and female teachers wore dresses. It made for a naturally more polite, civilized atmosphere, a far cry from today’s students who wear drooping jeans, or short shorts with “Juicy” on the butt. And many of the teachers’ attire is not much better.
Some of today’s kids are well on the way to reading by the time they enter school, largely due to parents who have encouraged this. But math and science in America have been an afterthought until junior high school and high school.
When I was in elementary school, we were taught the usual English, reading and math. But we also learned biology, geography, geology, astronomy, general sciences and even meteorology. We had regular music classes, art and art history classes, theater, choir, daily athletics and calisthenics, and full access to a well-stocked library.
By the time I reached junior high school, we were encouraged to take orchestra or band, auto, wood and metal shop, home economics and foreign languages. The school provided the materials in shop classes, as well as the musical instruments for band and orchestra.
We did not have to carry giant, back-breaking backpacks because we had ample lockers to store our books and supplies.
Every student participated in daily physical education class, and we were issued P.E. clothing by the school. After P.E., we showered, changed back into street clothes and went to our next class.
Today’s junior high schools use the shower areas for storage. In most such schools, there are no school bands or orchestras, no auto, wood or metal shop, no more home economics, and few foreign language classes.
I attended a racially diverse high school in the late 1970s in a tough part of Sacramento. The school was run like a tight ship by the school principal, a retired military man. There was discipline and order, despite the frequent racial, cultural and social tensions.
We had one school principal and one vice principal, one class counselor for each grade, a school nurse, a librarian and a school secretary. That’s it for the administration.
The dropout rate was close to zero. There was a stigma to being a high-school dropout.
Thirty years later, at the public high school my son attended, C.K. McClatchy High School had one principal, six vice principals — each with an assistant vice principal, many layers of administrative and secretarial workers in the office, many counselors, no nurse and a part-time librarian.
The graduation rate reported by C.K. McClatchy High School is only 57.9 percent, and per-pupil Spending is $10,051. I suspect that these numbers are lower and higher, respectively.
Why has this happened?
According to the Friedman Foundation, “[B]etween fiscal year 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent school employees grew 386 percent.
“Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.”
This is particularly difficult to stomach knowing that Gov. Jerry Brown successfully pushed so hard for Proposition 30, which will raise taxes on Californians with incomes of $250,000 or more, and a sales tax increase on everyone. Prop. 30 was sold ostensibly to raise more money for schools.
More ‘educators,’ less education
Even when student populations were dropping, public school systems were increasing staffing between 1992 and 2009. Staffing dramatically increased, but student performance did not. In fact, student performance dropped significantly for many years, the Friedman foundation reported. The percentage earning high school diplomas in recent years was below the percentage receiving diplomas in 1970.
Hiring more non-teaching personnel likely lowers the average quality of that workforce as well, the foundation found. Another concern with hiring more non-teaching staff is that it increases the school and district bureaucracy, and reduces the amount of time and energy teachers can devote to their students.
“Given the public education system’s dismal record and the positive evidence on school choice, decision- making should be decentralized so that individual parents, teachers, and educators can decide how to best organize schools,” the foundation explained.
“Perhaps the even greater accountability that would result from school choice would incent public school leaders to allocate the taxpayer resources in their care in even better ways (e.g., in hiring and retaining only the best teachers) for American students—instead of just adding more and more employees.
Crossposted on CalWatchDog