Reforms in California Education Needed
Lloyd Billingsley] 8/2605
the state Department of Education released student test scores
from spring 2005. The result is a mixed bag that holds lessons
more than 4.8 million test takers in California and five levels
of proficiency: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient,
and advanced. Across the state, the ranks of the proficient
in English now include 40 percent of students, still 10 points
short of half but a gain of five points from last year. In
math, another key subject, students registered a gain of four
points to 38 percent. That is 12 percent less than half, hardly
an acceptable benchmark.
As the Los
Angeles Times reported, 54 percent of third-grade students
reached the proficiency level last spring, a jump of 16 percent.
In English, scores of ninth-grade students jumped 15 percent
to 43 percent. But problems remain.
K. Lloyd Billingsley
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]
Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific
Research Institute and has been widely published
on topics including on popular culture, defense policy,
education reform, and many other current policy issues.
[go to Billingsley index]
Improvements decrease as students move to the next grade. Scores
remain low for students with special needs. And the gap in achievement
between racial and ethnic groups persists. The test results reveal
that 65 percent of Asian students and 51 percent of white students
were proficient in math. Compare that to only 27 percent of Latinos
and 23 percent of African Americans.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that all students
test proficient by 2013-14. With 60 percent still not proficient
in English, that will be a difficult task. Policymakers need
to learn a few lessons from recent reforms.
The modest gains of 2005 can be attributed not to education
spending but California's academic content standards, among the
toughest in the nation. These should be maintained, or even made
more challenging. High standards and high expectations make for
high achievement. Also, every classroom should be using textbooks
aligned with the content standards.
"Social promotion," the
practice of advancing students to the next grade when they
have not yet mastered the material,
will have to be dumped. Educators should retain the high-school
exit exam and reject political correctness.
Teachers are a key
factor in a child's education and California makes teachers "permanent" after
only two years, a practice shared by only eight other states.
Most require three
years. Voters will want to take a hard look at Proposition 74,
on the November 8 ballot, which extends the period to five years
and allows boards to fire teachers with two consecutive years
of poor performance. The flexibility to hire and fire teachers
is a key factor in the performance of successful charter schools.
Many regular public schools attended by Latino and African-American
students are indeed substandard and surely a factor in the achievement
gap. This strengthens the case for expanding educational choice.
Parents should be able to pull their children out of those schools
and send them elsewhere. A good place to begin would be a pilot
program for students in low-achieving schools. The goal should
be full choice in education for all, as a matter of basic civil
The modest gains, meanwhile, show a welcome trend toward improvement.
If state officials want the gains to continue, they should maintain
high standards, toughen accountability across the board, and
expand parental choice. CRO
2005 Pacific Research Institute