Posted on 1/12/11 • Praised for its high academic standards and accountability measures, dinged for its low scores on the national standardized tests, low high school graduation rates, and disadvantages of high rates of poverty and non-English speaking households, California fell squarely in a crowded, mediocre middle – 30th among the states, in this year’s annual ratings by Education Week’s Quality Counts. It earned a C grade: 76.2. The perennially top-ranked states are Maryland (tops with B+, 87), New York (84.7) and Massachusetts (82.6). Twenty states were between California and 10th West Virginia at 79.9.
The publication’s per-pupil spending ranking is the figure most commonly cited in California’s debate over school spending, because it’s adjusted for regional costs. This year, California ranked 43rd among the states and Washington, D.C.; last year it was 46th. The $8,852 spent per pupil in 2008 – before the full impact of the recession hit California’s schools – was $2,371 below the national average of $11, 223. It will probably be headed lower once 2009 and 2010 figures are out. California is squeezed between #42 Washington, just ahead of Arizona, and a freefall behind top-spending, low-cost Wyoming’s adjusted figure of $17,114.
California spends 3.5 percent on K-12 schools as a percentage of state taxable resources, 10 percent below the national average; it ranks 36th.
Quality Counts uses 50 measures, equally weighted. Thirty-six states joined California with a C.
The measures fall into six categories:
Chance for Success: Grade C (national average C+), rank 42nd . This measurement looks at indicators from preschool to adulthood. California ranked 8th in the nation with 80 percent of kids in kindergarten, 17th with 50 percent in preschool, and 24th with 54 percent of adults enrolled in post-secondary institutions or holding a degree.
At the same time, California ranks last in the nation, with only 61 percent of parents fluent in English (national average is 80 percent).
State Achievement Indicators: Grade D- (national average D+), rank 46th. This category is largely based on problematic comparisons of state scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in which California’s fourth and eighth graders have consistently ranked among the lowest in the nation. One problem is that NAEP doesn’t test algebra, which most California eighth graders take.
California does rank 8th in the percentage of high school students passing Advanced Placement tests (25 percent), and that percentage has increased impressively over the past decade.
Education Alignment Policies: Grade B- (national average C+), rank 14th. California does well because the state defines school readiness, has kindergarten standards aligned with first grade, and aligns high school career tech courses with industry expectations and post-secondary ed requirements.
School Finance: Grade C (national average C), rank 24th. Despite its low per-pupil spending, California ranked squarely in the middle overall. Its finance system, based on state taxes and not local revenues, is more equitably distributed than most states, for all its complexities and anomalies (high-spending districts in the Bay Area that are not dependent on state aid).
Standards, Assessments, Accountability: Grade A- (national average B), rank 17th. Aligned standards are California’s strength, and its accountability measures, sanctioning low-performing schools for low API scores, get a nod from Ed Week. However, its tests are multiple choice and not scaled from one grade to the next.
Twenty-seven states have benchmark assessments to guide teachers and students; California does not. Two dozen states have extended response questions that measure deeper levels of understanding than multiple choice questions; California is not one of them. (The Brown administration has made rethinking assessments a priority.)
Efforts to Improve Teaching: Grade C (national average C), rank 20th. This one mystifies, since California has scaled back teacher training dramatically and eliminated state incentives for teachers and principals to work in low-performing schools (some districts offer incentives), and unlike 32 states, has no internship program for aspiring principals. It has a high student-teacher ratio and no requirements for professional development for teachers. Unlike 15 other states, it does not require annual evaluations of teachers; 13 states tie evaluations to student achievement, California does not.
California does pay its teachers as much as comparable professions (I’ve seen conflicting data). The average teacher salary of $68,093 is second highest in the nation, next to New York, according to the National Education Association.
Impact of the recession
This year, Ed Week examined how states responded to the recession with changes in policies.
California is one of 35 states that have cut spending for K-12. It is also one of :
- 21 states that have allowed greater flexibility to districts over spending decisions;
- 10 states that allowed a short school year or shorter school day or week;
- 11 states that loosened regulations on class size.
But other states have acted where California has not. It is not one of:
- 15 states that have changed tenure rules in response to the economy or other factors;
- 22 states that have changed pension benefits or funding.
It also is not the one state (Arizona) that changed layoff criteria. California is one of only 11 states that require teacher layoffs based on seniority.