Obscure the Declining Performance of California Public Schools

School union protestEducational bureaucrats complain that charter and private schools are “unaccountable.” But in reality, no institution in America is less accountable than unionized, government-run school systems. Virtually no one gets fired when they do a poor job, and when Johnny can’t read, it’s not because he wasn’t taught well, but rather because funding was insufficient, class sizes were too big, poverty was overwhelming — or Betsy DeVos was making everything worse. And when the public schools are shown not to be living up to their promises, the educrats move the goalposts to disguise their shortcomings.

The latest example of this pattern is unfolding right now. The California School Dashboard is a comprehensive rating tool to assess educational performance. Schools, districts, and various student subgroups get placed into five color-coded categories ranging from red (bottom performers) to blue (best performers) on how students fare on the state’s annual standardized test, along with other measures including graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, and college readiness. If a district places in the red on two or more of these metrics, the county offices of education are called in for assistance.

Alarm bells sounded when the 2017 standardized test results in California were announced. They revealed that about 50 percent of schoolchildren can’t read at grade level. The news was especially dismal for black schoolchildren — almost 70 percent failed to read at grade level. When all the data were crunched, the outcomes revealed that, because of the poor test results, many school districts were deep in the red zone. But instead of acknowledging those schools’ failure, the State Board of Education simply decided to move a bunch of schools out of the lowest category. The board brushed aside criticism, referring to the lowering of standards as “a technical matter,” and the change was approved unanimously.

This brazen ploy is the latest in a series of similar efforts by the Golden State education establishment. Just last month, we officially said goodbye to the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which the state legislature eliminated in 2015 because too many kids couldn’t pass it. The English-language component of the test addressed state content standards through tenth grade, and the math part of the exam covered state standards only as far as grades six and seven and Algebra I. Worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively, going back to 2006, to students who had passed their coursework but failed the test.

Some cities have used their own methods to lower standards. In 2015, the Los Angeles school board decided to roll back graduation requirements, allowing students to pass A-G courses (classes that are required for college entrance) with a “D” instead of a “C.” If that wasn’t enough, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, students who are destined not to graduate high school get to take “credit-recovery” classes. Some are effective, but many are devoid of meaningful content. Students often complete them in a few hours or over a weekend. Due to the courses, the graduation rate in L.A. zoomed from a projected 54 percent to 77 percent in 2016 within a few months. Referring to the higher graduation rates, L.A. School Superintendent Michelle King had the chutzpah to proclaim that she is proud “of the heroic efforts by our teachers, counselors, parents, administrators and classified staff who rally around our students every day.” King’s comments aside, is it any wonder that three quarters of California community college students and over 40 percent of California State university system students need remediation?

In San Francisco, only 19 percent of black students passed the state test in reading, yet the school board and union colluded to give teachers in the lowest performing school district in the state a 16 percent across the board pay increase. In a statement, San Francisco Superintendent of Schools Vincent Matthews said that the agreement was made as part of the district’s “ongoing commitment to attracting and retaining talented educators.

While San Francisco undoubtedly has some wonderful teachers, they do not deserve a raise en masse. We do not need credit-recovery classes. We should not have eliminated the CAHSEE. We don’t need the state board fiddling with the new dashboard because the results were poor. And as the Freedom Project’s Alex Newman points out, we also don’t need more “tax money, smaller class sizes, more LGBT sensitivity training, more interventions, more amphetamines, more dumbed-down ‘standards,’ or bigger government.”

What kids really need is basic reading instruction with a strong emphasis on phonics, which has served kids well for generations and would continue to do so, if we let it. But if we continue to stroll blissfully down Unaccountability Lane, adopting educational fads and eliminating standards, millions of young Americans will grow up to be functionally illiterate, with dismal future prospects. This is beyond shameful. School boards, administrators, and teachers must be held accountable for the failing systems they run.

Conservative praise some of Gov. Brown’s vetoes

jerry-brown-signs-lawsSACRAMENTO – California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed only 118 of the 957 bills that came before his desk in the recently concluded legislative session, but some of his final vetoes earned a great deal of attention and praise – even from conservative Republicans.

That’s an interesting turn of events given that Brown signed into law most of the main Democratic priorities from the session. He approved a bill that turns California into a “sanctuary state” that limits the ability of local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration priorities. He approved a transportation tax and new spending on affordable housing programs. He agreed to a gender-neutral category for California driver’s licenses.

In addition, Brown signed a law that places more limits on the open carry of firearms and mandated that small businesses now provide 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to their workers. There’s much commentary about this having been one of the most liberal sessions in memory, which isn’t a surprise given the diminished power of the California GOP.

So what would conservatives – including ones outside of California – be happy about?

The main cause for celebration on the right came from Brown’s veto of Senate Bill 169. That legislation was passed in response to federal Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to roll back Obama administration sexual-assault guidelines for campuses. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, pointed specifically to the Trump administration in authoring the bill:

“The Trump administration continues to perpetuate a war on women,” Jackson wrote in a statement. “It is now more important than ever that Governor Brown sign SB169 into law and that other states follow. All students deserve an education in an environment that is safe and free from sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

The issue involves the Title IX federal amendments from 1972 that require schools and universities that receive federal aid to assure an environment that’s free of sexual discrimination and harassment. The Obama administration in 2011 sent a letter to schools, colleges and universities urging stepped up efforts to battle sexual assaults on campus.

But conservatives, such as David French of National Review, argued that the Obama-era guidelines were “mandating that (schools) satisfy the lowest burden of proof in sexual-harassment and sexual-assault adjudications, defining sexual harassment far too broadly, and failing to adequately protect fundamental due-process rights.” The new administration rolled back the rules and – to the surprise of many – Brown agreed with Trump and DeVos.

Brown issued an unusually long veto statement, in which he noted that “sexual harassment and sexual violence are serious and complicated matters for colleges to resolve. On the one side are complainants who come forward to seek justice and protection; on the other side stand accused students, who, guilty or not, must be treated fairly and with the presumption of innocence until the facts speak otherwise.”

The governor added that “thoughtful legal minds have increasingly questioned whether federal and state actions to prevent and redress sexual harassment and assault – well-intentioned as they are – have also unintentionally resulted in some colleges’ failure to uphold due process for accused students.” Brown also argued that the state should avoid new rules until it has “ascertained the full impact of what we recently enacted.”

In another veto that received praise on the right, Brown rejected Assembly Bill 1513, a union-backed measure that would have required private-sector workers in the privately funded home-care industry to provide private information to unions.

Workers who provide help in the homes of sick, elderly and disabled people already pass background checks. But this legislation would require the placement of “a copy of a registered home care aide’s name, mailing address, cellular telephone number and email address on file with the department to be made available, upon request, to a labor organization.”

Labor unions pitched the measure as a way to improve the licensure and regulation of these aides, but opponents saw it as a means to help unions contract these workers as part of their organizing efforts. Brown agreed with the opponents, and expressed concern about “releasing the personal information of these home care aides, who joined the registry without knowing that their information would be disclosed as prescribed by this bill.”

“Conservatives find themselves in the unexpected position of cheering some of California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent vetoes,” wrote Jim Geraghty in National Review. Geraghty also pointed to Brown’s veto of a bill that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns to qualify for the California ballot and another one that would have required large companies to provide detailed data about male and female salary disparities.

Brown, by the way, vetoed a bill that would have imposed a late-night driving curfew on those under 21. Currently, the curfew applies only to those under 18. The governor made the fundamentally conservative argument that 18-year-olds “are eligible to enlist in the military, vote in national, state and local elections, enter into contracts and buy their own car.” So it would be unfair to limit their driving privileges.

As the 79-year-old Democratic governor finishes his final gubernatorial term, he still has a way of defying critics and keeping people on the left and right guessing.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at [email protected]

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Union leaders launch hyperbolic grenades at Trump education budget

shocked-kid-apDid you know that the Trump/DeVos budget is manifestly cruel to children and catastrophic to public schools? Are you aware that Trump/Devos are planning to slash funding for public schools, and use voucher schemes to funnel taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools?

Well, I sure didn’t “know” these things till the two national teachers union leaders told me. But actually, climbing out of the union rabbit hole and venturing back to the real world, one regains perspective. And the reality is that the Trump/Devos budget cuts – which of course will have to run through the Congressional obstacle course before becoming law – don’t warrant the union leaders’ outlandish hyperbole. Not one iota.

In a nutshell, the budget does away with some programs that are wasteful and many that can be funded elsewhere. Alaska Native Education, Native Hawaiian Education, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers are on the elimination list. (A good summary of the budget cuts can be accessed here.) All in all, the proposed budget will pare federal spending by $9 billion, which represents a 13 percent cut. The budget also includes $1.4 billion “to support new investments in public and private school choice.” Most of the money earmarked for school choice would be an increase to the part of the existing Title 1 program that provides supplemental awards “to school districts that agree to adopt weighted student funding combined with open enrollment systems that allow Federal, State, and local funds to follow students to the public school of their choice.”

Is a 13 percent cut worth the hysteria? Hardly.

First of all, 92 percent of education spending comes from state and local sources, while federal dollars account for just 8 percent. Reducing that 8 percent by 13 percent means that each state will be losing a shade over 1 percent of its total education funding. That’s it. Hardly a slash. More like a minor paper cut. And of course any state that loses federal funding (Alaska and Hawaii take note) is perfectly capable of adding the 1 percent back via the legislative process.

As for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, they are typical of bureaucratic waste. As Brookings Institution Mark Dynarski writes, “To date, more than $12 billion of federal tax money has been spent on a program that a preponderance of evidence indicates doesn’t help students.”

It’s also instructive to step back and examine the effect that spending in general has on student achievement. And it has been proven time and again that there really is no correlation. In fact, between 1970 and 2012, our education spending tripled (in constant dollars) and student achievement was flat. On the 2015 international PISA test, which measures math, reading and science for 15 year-olds, the U.S. was in the middle of the pack – average in science and reading, but below average in math, trailing Estonia, Poland, Finland et al, while outspending those countries considerably. Additionally, a stunning 60 percent of all U.S. students now entering college need remediation.

President Trump recently told Congress, “We need to return decisions regarding education back to the State and local levels, while advancing opportunities for parents and students to choose, from all available options, the school that best fits their needs to learn and succeed.”

Trump is right on target here. Education should not be controlled by a federal bureaucracy. As Center for Education Reform CEO Jeanne Allen said in response to the budget, “Throughout the nation, at all levels, policymakers, parents, teachers and innovators are leading critical new endeavors to focus on student achievement, some by using new technologies in the classroom, some by implementing new schools of choice, some through boosting the traditional activities of districts.”

Only the special interest teachers unions and their fellow travelers could disagree.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This piece was originally published by the California Policy Center.