Tuesday, September 29, 2009

State of the State: K-12 EDUCATION

Op-Ed by David Plank |  The Daily Californian – the newspaper of the University of California/Berkeley


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Tuesday, September 29, 2009 -- Two years ago, California spent significantly less on schools than most other states. Now we are making deep cuts in educational spending. Two years ago, California ranked nearly last in the nation in the number of adults per student in our schools. Now we are laying off teachers. Two years ago, California faced a severe shortage of college graduates in the coming decade. Now the UC and CSU systems are eliminating classes and restricting enrollments.

In 2007, the "Getting Down to Facts" (GDTF) studies provided a comprehensive diagnosis of the state of education in California and some guidance on the kinds of policy change needed to reform our state's education system (Shortly thereafter, the Governor's Committee on Educational Excellence (GCEE) published a report called "Students First" that laid out a comprehensive strategy to improve the performance of California's schools and students.

At the time, there was broad agreement on two key points:

  • First, California would have to spend more money-a lot more money-on K-12 education to accomplish the state's ambitious educational goals.
  • Second, new spending would have to be accompanied by dramatic reforms in the way California's education system is organized and operated. More money by itself would not produce better results.

Sadly, agreement on these points did not lead to action.

Now the state's economic and fiscal health has deteriorated dramatically. Despite the heroic efforts of public school teachers and administrators to sustain recent progress in the performance of schools and students, California is falling ever farther behind the goals we have set for our young people. Protecting the precarious and unsatisfactory status quo in California's schools now looks like a tremendous challenge. Achieving the lofty educational ambitions proclaimed by our state's political leaders defies imagination.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the fix in which we find ourselves, but the more important issue is how can we get ourselves out. Most obviously, we need to provide more resources for our schools, mainly in the form of more adults-teachers, administrators, counselors, librarians and others-to ensure that students receive the instruction and support they need to be successful, in school and after. We are now moving in the opposite direction, as we cut budgets and lay off teachers, so the challenge is growing bigger by the day.

We also need to use educational resources more efficiently and effectively, in order to maximize the impact of what we have now and to ensure that whatever additional resources may eventually appear on the horizon will produce the largest possible benefits for California's young people. Using scarce funds better means targeting available resources to the schools and students who need them most, increasing the autonomy and administrative flexibility of local schools and school districts and creating incentives for innovation and experimentation throughout the education system.

Why does all of this matter? California's cutting-edge industries and services depend on a well-educated workforce, as does the civic health of our state. Our K-12 education system currently prepares too few students for college and our colleges and universities produce too few graduates sustain the economic and social dynamism that make California a great place to live.

It was time to act on these challenges two years ago. Each day that we now delay in fulfilling the promises we have made to our children makes it less likely that California can recover from the damage we are doing to ourselves and our collective future.

David Plank

Dr. Plank is the Executive Director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) - an independent, non-partisan research center based at the University of California – Berkeley, the University of Southern California, and Stanford University. He may be reached at dnplank@berkeley.edu   (650) 721-2422

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