California's Education System Under The Spotlight


Wednesday, March 14th 2007, 7:08 am
By: News On 6


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Overhauling California's schools will require tougher teacher standards and lots of money _ as much as a mind-boggling $1.5 trillion per year, according to studies to be released Wednesday.

The reports are intended to kickstart a discussion of major reforms to the nation's largest public education system, but appear to make no concrete recommendations.

A summary of the findings and some of the studies' supporting material was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. The 1,700-page report, meant to inform the Governor's Committee on Education Excellence, is scheduled to be released during separate events on Wednesday and Thursday.

The cost figures come from panels of educators who estimated how much it would take to bring all California schools up to a score of 800 on the state's Academic Performance Index, the state's system of gauging the proficiency of a school's students in reading and math.

Two estimates, both based on interviews with educators, put the cost of meeting the state's achievement goals at an additional $23 billion to $32 billion a year.

It is not clear, however, whether that money would bring all students up to the federal goal of having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014. The qualifications of the educators also were not specified.

One estimate in the documents obtained by the AP says California might need to spend as much as $1.5 trillion a year to meet its goals _ an amount equal to about half the annual federal budget.

California already spends nearly half its annual budget on education, a total of $66 billion in the current fiscal year, or about $11,000 per student in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Many education advocates said including outrageous figures such as the $1.5 trillion figure could trivialize reform efforts. They say the number could scare away policymakers who otherwise might be open to making substantive reforms, leaving the studies to collect dust along with those from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's advisory panels on prisons and government efficiency.

Among the changes suggested by the reports are more detailed evaluations for teachers coupled with tougher entry-level requirements and a sliding pay scale. Such suggestions, particularly those dealing with measuring teachers' effectiveness, are likely to meet resistance from powerful interests such as the California Teachers Association.

The summary notes that two common methods for gauging teachers' skills _ years of experience and level of education _ are poor measures for assessing how effective they are in the classroom.

The state also appears unlikely to meet the central mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act _ to have every child reach grade level proficiency in math and reading by 2014.

Critics say the standard is impossible, especially given the 3.1 million students who are considered poor _ half the students in the state _ and the 1.6 million English learners.

One of the studies concludes that the state does not need to invest substantially more money to educate English learners, but rather should direct any additional funding toward poor students. The conclusion is based on cost estimates developed after researchers studied six successful English-learner schools.

Nearly a third of the 6,000 schools that receive federal funding for poor students failed to make annual yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. Only a third have met the statewide achievement goals, some of the highest in the nation.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor, who named the bipartisan panel in 2005, will wait to hear the committee's suggestions later this year before deciding what action to take.