The State Board of Education and the California Department of Education have struggled for seven years to convince the public there is a plan to lift student achievement and close testing gaps. Results have been far from stellar.
Looking at results of federally mandated testing (the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC), the state has been a dismal failure.
What is the plan to rise from the ashes? What is the replace the experimental teaching philosophies that have shown little or no positive effect and yet are the end-all be-all for educating our children?
One in four California school districts will be required to get assistance for students with disabilities; over 600 school districts will need assistance when all students are accounted for. And the results would have been worse if the state board had not changed the rules.
Some argue it will take time because the standards were raised. This excuse is normally followed by myriad excuses that imply California has taken on the greatest, most rigorous educational challenge ever.
Yet, California junior colleges have dropped intermediate algebra requirements for most students. The California State University system is poised to begin teaching high school math and English for college credit. Meanwhile, in 2013 the state passed legislation moving Algebra 1 from 8th to 9th grade.
How does any of this square with raising the bar? It doesn’t.
The California accountability plan was rejected by the state’s department of education. Instead, the state blamed local school districts and threw the complaints downhill to local school boards. Fast forward and the state’s department of education is – for the third time – remodeling its Local Control and Accountability Plan and Local Control Funding Formula to force more compliance onto school districts.
They call it the “Test Kitchen,” but be honest – it’s the next step in defending failed policies by throwing the kitchen sink at local school boards.
We have endured the failed annual SBAC test. We have expended hundreds of millions of dollars building web-based networks and purchasing computers to meet testing mandates. The required local funding of pension liabilities continues to rise. By 2024, school districts will be contributing 28.2 cents of every dollar to CalPERS and 19.5 cents to CalSTRS.
Yet, California continues to underfund education. California ranks 45th in the percentage of taxable income per student, 41st in per-pupil spending and 48th in pupil-to-staff ratios.
The problem is not that local school districts haven’t been held accountable. The problem is the public and the state legislature have not held the appointed (unelected and thus unaccountable) State Board of Education and California Department of Education accountable for their failed policies.
So keep throwing the kitchen sink at us, keep blaming us for not making failed policies work and keep letting privately funded, nonprofit think tanks make more failed policies.
California education policy is an unmitigated disaster, and when it’s over the blame will rest in the hands of the state, led by State Board of Education President Michael Kirst and State Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson. If the legislature cannot find the courage to act, they are just as much to blame.
Policies that hurt children and families should never be tolerated. But we live in a state where accountability is only used to push problems downhill.
John Walker is a member of the Modesto City School board of trustees.