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Governor's Veto Will Help Education Reform
But Much Work Remains…

[by K. Lloyd Billingsley] 10/13/05


Last Thursday, Pacific Research Institute’s Xiaochin Claire Yan called for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto AB 1531, which would have allowed school districts to bypass California's high-school exit exam. The next day, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. It was the right thing to do, but neither this action nor a measure on the November ballot will fix all that is wrong in California education.

Take the exit exam itself. It is good that the state will retain the test but, strictly speaking, it is not a high-school exit exam at all. It tests knowledge of eighth-grade math and tenth-grade English. Educators should reform the test to measure all the material through grade 12, and keep standards high on all fronts. That is the practice of successful charter schools statewide.

K. Lloyd Billingsley
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. 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]

In Free to Learn: Lessons from Model Charter Schools, PRI's Lance Izumi lets principals explain how their schools achieved success with low-income minority students. These students achieve at high levels because the successful principals maintain high expectations for all. They back those expectations with use of California's tough academic content standards, and textbooks aligned to those standards.

The successful principals have little use for political correctness and reject classroom fads. They seek teachers based on the desire and ability to teach, not seniority and tenure.

In California, teachers now gain tenure after only two years on the job. Proposition 74 on the November ballot would make that five years. That is the case in Missouri and Indiana; three other states require four years and a full 33 states demand three years.

State Superintendent Jack O'Connell, also shaky on the exit exam, opposes Prop 74, and so do teacher unions. They want teachers, whatever their competence, to have a job for life after only two years. Teacher pay is not tied to performance and assignment is often based on seniority. That keeps desk-sleepers and other incompetents in the classroom despite their harm to the children.

Unsatisfactory Performance: How California's K-12 Education System Protects Mediocrity and How Teacher Quality Can Be Improved, a PRI study released in 2000, revealed how the actual number of tenured teachers dismissed for poor performance is virtually zero. Firing an incompetent teacher is a practical impossibility in California. One education official told the authors, “It takes longer to fire a teacher than to convict a murderer."

Prop 74 would change the dismissal process for tenured teachers, but it would not level the playing field with many other professions that have no tenure and which link pay with performance. Neither does it give parents and students the options they need.

The Economist has been praising America's system of higher education as the best in the world. That system, a resounding success, is based on choice. Students get the funding and select the school. On the other hand, in K-12 education, the system gets the money, regardless of performance, and assigns the school. Little wonder that the K-12 system is a factory of mediocrity and failure.

The governor did right to veto a bill that would have lowered already low standards. If passed, Prop 74 would amount to a small step in the right direction. But if they want true reform and a brighter future for California's students, legislators should establish full parental choice in K-12 education as a matter of basic civil rights. CRO

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute




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