Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hot topic: Why does California ignore its schools?

This from an SF K Files visitor:

According to today's NYT's article

"Currently 6,000 of the nation’s 95,000 schools are labeled as needing corrective action or restructuring because they have fallen short of testing targets under the federal law, which nonetheless provided little financing to help them. Most states have let the targets languish. The stimulus law, in contrast, provides $3 billion for school turnarounds, and requires governors to pledge vigorous action."

Of the 6,000 schools, 2,260 are in California. Being the most populated state is not an excuse (NYC with 19,500,000 as opposed to CA's 36,7000,000 only has 565 schools in this category, and Texas with 24,300,000 people only has 347 of these schools.) As a parent who will soon be entering the CA school system and is ready to get my hands dirty and be involved, I am resentful that I will be doing so much of the work that the state is failing to do. This, more than anything, makes me want to leave CA - the complete disregard for the failing school system. How did it come to this?


  1. I think the answer is fairly obvious - it's all about Proposition 13 and the low property taxes here relative to other states.

  2. I don't know about that. What's the $$$ per student that CA is spending as opposed to NY or TX? For '03-'04 it was $45-47 for NY/TX and $38 for CA. Not enough to answer that skew. Further FL is at $32 and yet has way fewer schools per person on that list. I hired a high school kid from a public school here this past summer. Not only would I not do so again, but I wouldn't send my children to one after the ones I met.

  3. These statistics are why a lot of people are scared of California public schools and send their kids private if they can afford it without even looking at public.

    California serves a huge immigrant student population who are English language learners. That skews test scores downward (don't know how immigrant populations compare percentage-wise to states like NY and FL but expect CA is higher even though both those states serve many immigrants).

    California's schools are badly under-funded, near the bottom nationally (though a high level of per-student funding such as in Washington DC does not seem to help much in a system like DC that serves an unusually high percentage of high-need students).

    If you break down test scores in San Francisco by ethnicity and affluence, high percentages of students from economically advantaged backgrounds, whites and Asians perform at or above state standards. I don't know about national standards, though--I have the impression CA has set the bar pretty low relative to national standards.

    California as a whole does not pay the attention to its schools it should, but there are pockets of relative success. Your child might fit into one of those pockets. The private school mind-set of parents is often, "I want to support public schools but look at those numbers, I'm not taking a chance with MY kids." (Contrary to some trolls on this blog, most private school parents are not looking for a socially exclusive experience, they are looking for quality education that will engage their kids.) Maybe kids like yours actually do better than you think at public schools.

    Not saying we should not be ashamed of our overall failure and work for better schools for all kids, only that those raw numbers don't tell the full story.

  4. 12:46 here. Yes, you are spot on with the immigrant stat. CA has more than double their numbers and broken down by race, they score on par. Asian/white/high income demographic scores above par. I still wouldn't send my children to public because a school has to teach to the lowest learning level and work up. There is also the social question which brings me back to my observations at the public schools and my interviews of public school kids. The overwhelming majority sat and stared at their feet the whole interview process and said about 5 words. It was, jarring to say the least and I was astounded at how socially awkward/backwards they were. On a visit I witnessed bullying and plain old meanness that I never saw at the privates. The classes were rife with half the children not paying the least amount of attention as well. I don't care about the social ladder climbing experience thing. I would very much enjoy sending my children to school with an exclusive blue collar background but it has to be with families that put in the effort and raise their kids. I just didn't find that and you are right that I just want the best education for my kids that will engage them.

  5. There are no national standards for education. Each state sets its own standards-as was mentioned in the article. This means that each state has the opportunity to set its standards high, or low. Students in California may well perform at a higher level than students in New York, or any other given state, but because the standards are different there's no way of comparing. California actually has fairly ambitious standards set, which is probably why so many schools are failing in California.

    Of course, California also ranks 47th in the nation in per pupil funding. It's pretty amazing that California schools are able to function at all-just today, L.A. announced it will be laying off 5400 teachers and support personnel.

  6. 3:00 PM What public high school did you visit and under what circumstances? You seem to be painting with a pretty broad brush. I don't think you would trash all private schools because one graduate didn't interview well, or wrote badly. Or maybe you would. This may say more about you than about either public or private schools.

  7. Mamabear, I was under the impression that Prop 13 brings in a windfall of money, because real estate in CA is among the highest in the nation. How much did Prop 13 take in last year, and how much of the Prop 13 taxes went to education? Do you have actual $ amounts?

  8. sorry, I meant Momma Bear.

  9. Prop 13 is from 1971 and it dramatically cut property taxes (which helps pay for schools.) It killed CA schools.

  10. Interesting on Prop 13, the law is now almost 30 years old, meaning that a lot of homes have changed hands in that time, increasing the tax base in California from a median in 1979 of $85K to over $470K in 2007 . The values of property in California which taxes are determined are also extremely inflated compared to other states (say Iowa or Wisconsin both ranked in the 10, with housing prices averaging about $150K). So, I don't think Prop 13 gets all the blame, it is the choices our state gov't has made on what to fund and what not to fund.


    It's a question of priorities ...

    at least with prop 13 my mother can afford to live in the city, if she had to pay property taxes based upon the current appraisal value of her property, she couldn't afford to stay in the city

  12. It's important to remember that Proposition 13 also applies to commercial real estate.

  13. ...and remember, San Francisco's percentage of property owners is very low compared to tenants in this city...why should those few owners shoulder the responsability of higher taxes for schools. Maybe we should have a city-wide tax on all residents that would directly go toward our SFUSD...

  14. S9 is correct about commercial as well as residential real estate. Companies don't turn over real estate as quickly as individuals. We need DIVIDED ROLLS. We also need reform that protects our fixed-income elderly. And a more progressive state income tax, because it is true that the burden should not be only about property ownership (though owning property is a meaningful sign of having more wealth than many others do, and I say that as a property owner).

    Prop 13 was enacted in 1978, btw, not 1971. It helped kick off the Reagan revolution. A generation's worth of moving wealth up the ladder through massive tax cuts for the wealthy and disinvestment from the commons while working people's wages have stagnated (in real dollars). We solved that issue at first by sending women into the workforce and by borrowing, but time has run out now on those solutions. Middle class and working class can't make it anymore.

    Finally, to 3:00pm: It is idiotic reductionism to judge a whole generation's worth of public school kids on the basis of a few interviews and tours. I have anecdotes too: you obviously have not met my (middle-school-aged) child nor her friends, who are confident, bright, lovely, well-mannered kids. I know plenty of bratty private school kids--does that mean that all are or that the schools make them that way? It all starts with the parents, anyway, but my child's teachers this year have been very strong in teaching social values and respectful behavior, too.

    C'mon, you really didn't think you could put that BS out there without a little pushback, did you? There are LOTS of committed and caring public school parents on this blog and we will defend our kids and our communities! No need to start that public-private war again with gratuitous insults like that. Please note, this did NOT start with the public school parents.

  15. Hear, hear, 8:44!!

    Having followed this blog for more than a year, I've seen a few variations on the "I met a few public school kids who didn't meet my expectations, so therefore all public school must suck" theme. It's important to remember that SFUSD must teach ALL students who enroll. OF COURSE there is going to be a wide range of kids in that mix. I went to Hoover with Daniel Handler, who went on to Lowell and then wrote the Lemony Snicket books. Does that mean if you send your kid to SF public schools, s/he will turn out to be a famous author? No, it means he is on one end of the spectrum.

  16. Wouldn't the question "why does CA parents ignore their children's education" be more appropriate? The state's obligation to provide public education and however they fund it is only part of the problem or solution. The more important ingredient to children's academic or overall life success is their home education and parental involvement which is clearly lacking by comparison with other states whether they attend public or private school. There are plenty of dedicated parents that live in CA but looking at the entire demographic within the state of CA, this dedicated group seems to be the minority.

  17. 10:07 - is this a fact that in other states parental involvement is higher? I find that hard to believe/prove.

  18. I still wouldn't send my children to public because a school has to teach to the lowest learning level and work up.No. This statement is factually incorrect. A school has to reach all learners. Obviously, not all of our schools are doing that right now. However, it's not because we are all teaching to the lowest common denominator. (Honestly, teachers are more often accused of teaching to the middle or just to "bubble kids" anyway...where did you get this idea?). Differentiation of instruction is critical - not just for a student's skill level, but for different learning modalities, age ranges, etc. And most teachers are pretty good at using differentation.

    There is also the social question which brings me back to my observations at the public schools and my interviews of public school kids. The overwhelming majority sat and stared at their feet the whole interview process and said about 5 words. It was, jarring to say the least and I was astounded at how socially awkward/backwards they were.Did you know these students prior to your interview? Did the students you interviewed share your cultural background? Was the interview an informal situation in which students could relax? Or was it in fact a high-stakes, artificial experience for children who didn't know anything about you and had little in common with you?

    I would very much enjoy sending my children to school with an exclusive blue collar background but it has to be with families that put in the effort and raise their kids.I think you need to consider the possibility that these parents love and care for their children just as much as you love and care for yours. Their "effort" may look different to you, but I strongly doubt it is absent. Life skills that my parents felt I needed might strike other parents as a lack of care. My parents felt that the "caring" other (typically wealthier) parents offered their children was coddling.

  19. All the comments posted to date ring true - more immigrants to educate, Prop 13, etc.

    Also, it's becoming a well known fact that the way we manage the funding we DO have creates problems. Again, thanks to Prop 13 most of the funding is decided in Sacramento, and less at the district level. Prop 13 also made it incredibly difficult to pass bonds and taxes for schools requiring way more than a majority to pass (2/3 vote - which means in many cases minority rules.)

    Because of Prop 13 there is a great deal of funding that is only allowed to be used for specific things - categorical funding - making it hard to address issues that come up.

    An example of this: When Gov Arnold came on board, I was on our school site council and his slashing of the budget at that time forced us into the tough decision of having to cut 4 paraprofessionals from our school. A few years later he 'added back' the money - but stipulated that it had to go for physical fitness. So we lost teacher aids and got back balls. I'd take the aids. But THAT'S the type of problems multiplied my a million that has to be address in California to get our schools back on track to focus on how to use the dollars most effectively.

    The best place to get smart about this is the "Getting Down to Facts" reports (Google it to see the many studies on the subject.) funded by several of the major education foundations in CAlifornia. It seems to be having some traction - but we really have to get our State representatives to get on board this stuff (so far I see nothing like this kind of thinking from Fiona Ma or Leland Yee. There is some hope with Tom Ammiano and Leno, who seem much smarter on education issues.)

    The that California has fewer dedicated parents is just silly

  20. I would like to strongly agree with 3:07, who said California has fairly ambitious standards. That is absolutely true -- we actually have among the most rigorous standards of all the states.

    I have heard experts on education in California say that we actually sell ourselves short in some ways -- we compare ourselves to other states in terms of achievement and funding and think our schools are terrible. In fact, we have the highest standards and the lowest funding, and if we combine those two facts we are doing surprisingly well. This is NOT to say that I approve in any way of the current level of funding OR that I think our kids can't achieve at a higher level -- we need to adequately fund our schools and we need to make sure California students are achieving at a consistently high level. But still, let's be real about what we are doing and not doing -- our schools are not bad, they are under-resourced and have been for decades. It's not surprising that they aren't doing as well as they should be.

  21. Today I interviewed an high school intern who will be working in my office. This student is at the Life Learning Academy on Treasure Island, a charter for kids that have not had success in traditional public schools. Many have had problems with drugs or the juvenile justice system. They have their students work one day a week in an internship the second half of their junior and all of their senior year to get work experience. It was started by the Delancey Foundation

    In interviewing this kid, it was clear here was a kid who does not speak English at home, had been at three middle schools in SFUSD (one of them the school my own child attends) and probably had a learning disability. With a smaller classroom and what was clearly a very dedicated teacher mentor, it was apparent that this kid was getting something that could help turn his life around. He seems like a sweet kid - a boy actually - who was eager to get access to new experiences and learn. He'll be doing data entry for our organization.

    The thing is, he has a caring parents who want the best for him - but without this school he wouldn't have had any way to get access to learning or visualizing a new future for himself.

    I post this only to help people see that many of the kids in public schools are here because their parents are trying to provide a better life for their kids - many don't have access to the skills, knowledge or resources that most on this listserve have. They love their kids and care about them just as much as anyone. But they are at a disadvantage in a culture that is new to them.

    I'm happy to provide the opportunity to a kid and hopefully help him gain some life and job experience for his future.

    I might add that this type of internship is EXACTLY the thing that more students should have - especially in public schools. I note that he didn't get this chance at his last school and instead only got it through a charter school.

  22. Rachel is right about California standards. I saw an article recently that noted that Mississippi, for example, had students hitting and exceeding their targets across the board. But those that compare curriculum standards across states noted that their standards are among the lowest.

    So CA is 'missing' the mark on our high targets but Mississippi is exceeding theirs.

    It's a perfect example of a fatal flaw of NCLB: States are picking their own standards and comparing states is an apples and oranges comparison. When $$ withheld to punish states, it causes high standards states to lower their standards (from another study I saw.)

    The Fordham Foundation, known to be a hard-hitting and rather conservative organization on education, found California standards to be among the top three in the U.S.

    I went to school in the 60's/70's and I know that my kids in elementary and middle school are definitely learning things a year and sometimes two years earlier than I did. And they seem to be ahead of their cousins in Texas (which is now considered to be a state making some progress - again, with lower curriculum standards than CA.)

  23. We found a staff listing from 1952 at my kids' elementary school while cleaning out storage areas a few years ago. Our small-ish elementary school (360 kids) had a principal, assistant principal, two secretaries, nurse, librarian, 16 teachers, 6 teacher aids, several lunch ladies and janitors - all full time.

    Now, a principal, 15 teachers, one janitor, one secretary, no teacher aids, no nurse, part time librarian (thanks to prop A) and one janitor in the a.m. and another in the p.m.

    And are educating a larger number of immigrant and disenfranchsed than in the 50s by a huge amount.

  24. 3:15 YEAH, way to go. Attack her personally because that's showing her. Tell her she looks funny too while you are at it.

  25. "California serves a huge immigrant student population who are English language learners."

    Yeah, but as pointed out, Texas has much fewer per population schools in the problematic category, but would (I imagine but haven't checked) a similar proportion of ELL students. And it's not because of difference in standards - I compared the California and Texas English Arts standards and Texas' are a similar, with Texas' being a lot more detailed than California's on the requirements.

  26. buying a home is a choice. buying a home in SF is a choice.

  27. Interesting discussion.

    I would add this about Prop 13 and commercial property.

    Legal loopholes enable businesses to maintain their property tax base at the 1978 (pre-Prop 13) level.

    Prop 13 allows the state to raise property taxes only 1% a year (despite much higher inflation rates even exceeding 10% in some years in the 1980s). This means that property taxes are incredibly low on many commercial properties.

    Public schools in California have been bled dry of funding.

    When I attended a Los Angeles USD elementary school in the 1960s, we had a full-time shop teacher; a bus on hand for our own school to shuttle kids on field trips; a full-time nurse; and two assistant principals.

    Hard to imagine such largesse ever existed.

    From a broader perspective, the slow death of the middle class (particularly in SF) bodes ill for American society. Our wealthier citizens opt out of the morasse and send their children to private schools (I'm not condemming this). Our poorer ones must spend most of their time and resources keeping their heads above water, and have little leftover energy for supporting their childrens' schools.

  28. The middle class is still here and we want to send our children to public school. Just not across town. The school in my neighborhood isn't the greatest in the world (Cobb) but I would surely give it a try if I didn't have to deal with the lottery system currently in place.

  29. How much is your child's education worth to you? Those cuts down in LA? We have friends whose children attend Pacific Primary in Manhattan Beach. When the state cut their funding and teachers and programs were faced with cuts the school went to the parents and asked for $600 for each child (optional donation) to keep the programs and teachers in place. They managed to raise the money they needed in one week. Now before everyone goes jumping all over me saying that not everyone can donate that kind of money...yes, I realize that. But it is an example of how the difference can be made by a community who is able. $600 isn't that much in the scheme of things for some so why not look at some of these options? Partner up schools and share the extra funding with ones that perhaps doesn't have the ability to raise the money.

  30. Two years ago my brother-in-law and sister-in-law moved to Texas from the Pacific Northwest. They had only one criteria when finding a house... pick the best school and buy a house near it. It literally took them less than a week to purchase a house since the school was the only deciding factor.

    Here's what they got: A stressed out kid who was threatened with being held back if she didn't get up to speed with the testing standards, weeks upon weeks of drill and kill exercises, the knowledge that teachers compensation relied on their test performance, teachers who tear up practice tests when the kids don't finish on time, lots of tears and self esteem issues, etc., etc.

    High standards indeed.

  31. I have heard that "optional donations" are common in some of the tonier school districts, like Orinda, Lafayette, and Los Altos.

  32. I have to disagree that public schools always teach to the lowest level. I know many public school children who are super-bright and kept challenged. Even one of the worst performing schools in SF overall, John Muir, has kids who are accelerated in math and there's a special teacher who works with those kids to keep them moving.

    All schools, public and private, have kids with different strengths and learning styles, and some require more attention than others. It must be said that private schools often have more resources to provide differentiated teaching than public schools and are not required to deal with such extreme differences as public schools since they can cherry-pick among applicants. If your child is not a particularly independent learner, the greater availability of one-on-one help that some privates provide may be a better choice for the specific child if it's manageable for the family and if you get in (though some complain that private schools too often recommend tutors rather than providing that level of help, which can be galling given the price you pay).

  33. "The middle class is still here and we want to send our children to public school. Just not across town. The school in my neighborhood isn't the greatest in the world (Cobb) but I would surely give it a try if I didn't have to deal with the lottery system currently in place."

    Then you are in luck. You'll almost certainly get a spot at Cobb. It's not one of the highly-sought-after schools.

  34. Actually I don't have time to check but I think the EL enrollment in California is around 25% and Texas is around 15%, which is a fairly significant difference.

  35. 11:05's comment shows that it's not so simple determining what IS the "best school." Obviously that school wasn't the best for that child and family.

    Those of us who are older parents remember when Prop. 13 passed. It is most certainly, without a doubt, THE factor that led California schools to slide from the envy of the nation to near the bottom in many ways. It's a bit startling that some younger parents aren't aware of that. You can see it in other areas too, of course. Drive across a state line into California from Oregon, Nevada or Arizona and feel the road suddenly get rutted and bumpy, for one thing.

    Prop. 13 was fueled by a toxic combination of soaring real estate values that had caused property taxes to skyrocket along with them, and the fact that the demographic who led it to success were oldsters whose kids were grown and done with school (so **** everyone else, sadly including their own grandchildren, was their view).

    Regarding our elders, who are "only" able to remain in their houses because of the property tax caps imposed by Prop. 13 -- IMHO, this generation benefited from a massive income transfer to them, which they achieved by doing nothing at all but owning real estate. Like magic, they were suddenly sitting on multiple, exponential increases in their net worth -- at the expense of the generations behind them.

    In my view, reverse mortgages would be a perfectly reasonable way to cover living expenses (and taxes!) in that situation. And as I'm an older parent who has owned an SF home for 21 years and is sitting on a lot of equity, that would basically apply to me too -- and I still think it's fair and rational.

  36. There's ample reason to doubt most/all of what successes schools in Texas have experienced. The "Houston Miracle" appears to have been assiduously copied across the state.

  37. Anybody who's been reading this blog for a while knows that Cal (or at least SF) public schools aren't nearly as bad as their reputation. I buy the thesis that our state's higher proportion of immigrant ESL children pulls down average test scores.

    But there are some statistics out there about school spending in California that I really can't square. For example, someone above said that we are 47th in the nation on per pupil spending. If true that's a disgrace. I can only think that it reflects the indifference of the middle classes (whose kids are in privates or suburban publics) to the plight of the immigrant kids.

    But I recently came across another statistic that totally shocked me. According to the American Federation of Teachers, Cal teachers rank Number 1 in the nation for pay! Check out p. 16 of this report at And please don't accuse me of being an anti-union troll. I think our teachers should get even more than they do now. But I can't reconcile the 1st of 50 salary number with the 47th of 50 per pupil spend. Can someone give us a web link to the latter number, and explain it?

  38. My guess would be that the CA rate is pulled up -- way up -- by the high-income suburbs AND the fact that they're in such very high-cost areas. Our state has some of the wealthiest suburbs in the nation, as we know. And housing costs in wealthy suburbs elsewhere (Westchester County etc.) are cheapo compared to ours (Marin, Lamorinda, the Peninsula). Teacher pay is considerably higher in those places.

  39. California's actually in the middle in per-pupil spending:

    On Prop 13: A really crappy piece of legislation. According to Jerry Brown, it got passed because inflation was running high in the late 1970s, and the legislature was dithering with upping the limits for relief on property taxes for senior citizens on fixed incomes. But structurally its a bad thing (made local government reliant on state aid, which in turn is too reliant on capital gains and sales taxes), plus it reduces the turnover in housing in the state (like, I'd move closer to the school SFUSD has assigned us to, but doing so would up my tax bill by $8K/year.) Lack of turnover bias housing prices upwards, and also means people are less likely to move to be close to their jobs (so increases commute times, congestion and pollution).

    Plus, there's the sheer unfairness: that my neighbours who moved in a few years ago have to pay 2-3x what I pay, and it also acts as yet another intergenerational transfer from Gen Xers and Yers to Boomers (boomers bought their houses a decade or more ago, so pay much less taxes than X'ers or Y'ers who bought after 2000).

    There's also the stinking illogic of the supermajority rule for the state budget and for passing a bond. We saw the effect of this supermajority rule this year, when the budget got held up by a minority of cultist followers of Zombie Reagan (never mind that Reagan when governor increased state spending as a share of Gross State Product faster than any other governor since they started collecting figures on Gross State Product). Passing a bond by proposition is more difficult than changing the state constitution. That is frigging crazy.

    Prop 13 is such a crappy, woeful piece of legislation that I have the following rule of thumb for voting in elections:

    1. What candidates or positions does the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association endorse?

    2. Vote the opposite way.

  40. Does anyone know much about the upcoming propositions that will be on the ballot in the special election in May?

    Our son's preschool has signs urging folks to vote against 1D as it will cut funding for First Five and hurt preschools.

  41. Teachers in SF are definitely not getting top pay. I agree with the poster who said that wealthy suburban school districts bring the average up.

  42. First off: Commercian and family real estate needs to be taxed differently.

    I believe 8:44 from yesterday said it perfectly.

    Something else that I heard was that CA owes the schools millions of dollars from past abroved bond moneys used for other purposes. Is this true, I have no proof.

    anyway... what do we do now? What does it take to make this system work?

  43. Actually, 8:10am, your sources are outdated. One of the sources was from 2003-2004. California is indeed 47th in the nation in per pupil funding.

  44. "Actually, 8:10am, your sources are outdated. One of the sources was from 2003-2004."

    THe source (California Teacher's Association) you give dates from 2006-2007, with a figure of $7,750 per pupil

    Their numbers conflict with those of the California Legislative Analyst, who gives the per-pupil spending as $11,626 in 2008-2009.

    I'll trust the Legislative Analysts numbers over the CTA's. Not that I don't like the CTA, just I suspect their number for CA excludes certain expenditures.

  45. Does anyone know much about the upcoming propositions that will be on the ballot in the special election in May?

  46. There are various ways to state expenditure per student. California ranks differently depending on which is being used. I don't know more than that, but I've seen discussions of which are more valid in interpreting how much is truly being invested in a student's education. Sorry to be coming from a position of ignorance; the information I'm providing is just that the different modes exist.

  47. I believe the Legislative Analyst numbers include capital expenditures.

    The CTA numbers (which I believe come from the NEA) rate CA 47th when adjusted for cost of living - not in actual dollars.

    This is one of the issues for CA: We have an extremely high cost of living (and SF among the highest). It's misleading to say we spend more on teacher salaries or that we pay our teachers more when the COL is so high.

    Pre-Katrina, I remember a survey showing that a starting teacher salary in New Orleans was the equivalent in COL in San Francisco of a starting salary of $80,000! But at the time starting teachers in SF got only $38,000.

    So, high salaries in SF and CA don't tell the whole story.

  48. the problem with blaming parents is this: it doesn't solve the problem. i have worked inside of schools. when i child, who hasn't gotten enough sleep, is not fed well (sugar, and hungry) and has dirty clothes--someone who watched 8 hours of TV and had little positive interaction at home--when that child comes to school, the school doesn't have the resources to help that child get ready to learn.

    Yell at the parents, fine. but that doesn't free the teacher up from the inevitable distraction, does it?

    Schools need teachers aids, and social workers, and i'm not talking about 1 for 300 kids. Schools need money to handle all the issues that kids bring to school. It isn't the teachers fault that he cannot teach some of them. it isn't their fault. it just is.

    Parents can be blamed for avoiding candidates that want to raise taxes for schools.

  49. The problem was that soaring home values made an entire generation outrageously wealthy on paper (without lifting a finger, beyond buying the homes) but owing taxes on the appreciation.

    The solution was not to starve our public services and infrastructure.

  50. I know the kid who has had very little sleep, watches 8 hrs a TV, is hungry, has no parental supervision. And that Kid got straight As across the board. That kids favorite teacher, who inspired them to teach math later in life, is the one who was extremely strict and bucked the school board's rules by not allowing kids to miss class, period. Let's face it, there are kids who act up in class, whether or not their parents are involved or not. When teacher expectations are set very high, kids respond.

  51. 6:03, reality check. There are outlier kids who do well despite being sabotaged at home. But it's not as easy as you make it sound. For one thing, it's not possible to "not allow" a student to miss class -- what does the teacher do when the child isn't there? Most kids who face those challenges struggle in school, and it's not realistic to expect teachers to magically compensate for those issues.

    I also wanted to quibble with the wording of the original post. It's too simplistic and too dismal to simply describe California's school system as "failing." Schools in upper-income areas, where the parents and taxpayers provide resources and the advantaged kids don't come with the challenges many kids from poverty do, do well by any measure. Many schools that do face the challenges of underfunding and a lot of disadvantaged students still transcend the problems and do well. Some schools ARE collapsing under the twin burdens of high needs and underfunding.

    The other part of that question resonates -- how can Californians just let these situations fester? But our nation allows our insane health care system to fester too. Too many poorly informed voters? Too much of a political stalemate among our legislators? A combination of factors?

  52. Regarding the unfairness of Prop 13: I *wish* we only paid 2-3x the prop taxes our neighbors pay. We pay 80x what one neighbor pays, and 20x what our other neighbor pays. Yes, they are elderly people who are basically saying f*** you to the future generation - the same future generation who will be paying for their medical bills. I understand the rationale behind Prop 13, but commercial should have been more limited, and a 1% annual increase limit is too extreme. And yes, even if $ isn't everything in determining the quality of education, it is no coincidence that private school attendance went dramatically up (according to an admissions director in SF) and public school quality went dramatically down after Prop 13 passed.

    About the quandary of CA teachers being the highest paid and CA being 47th in $/pupil, could it be that each teacher is responsible for more kids than most states?

  53. I think some of the blame for Calfiornia schools performance is with the teachers Union (CTA) and the basic impossibility of SFUSD to weed out ineffective, inept or incompetent teachers. Unlike most folks, if you do not perform well or even adequately at your job, then you are gone. Not so, with teachers. The procedures to fire a teacher make it nearly impossible wihtout a criminal act. While I believe Unions do a lot of good with their collective bargaining power, one consequence is there are teachers in SFUSD who should have been fired long ago.

  54. It is too easy to blame teachers.

    Most teachers I have known have been stretched to the limit with too few resources, too many teaching constraints and too little pay, IMO.

    Good teaching is an art but it needs to be valued and nurtured by our society. (like parenting)

  55. --Yes, they are elderly people who are basically saying f*** you to the future generation --

    Wow, harsh. The elderly people I know are on small, fixed incomes and in some cases are struggling to stay in their homes. Try living on social security and see how much you have left over for property taxes.

  56. Actually, it's very well known that today's older generation is the wealthiest generation IN HISTORY. Of course there are elderly people struggling as well. But the huge amount of home equity that landed on their doorsteps, with no effort on their part, came at the expense of the generations behind them. Of course they aren't consciously saying "f*** you," but there's mass denial.

  57. "Of course they aren't consciously saying "f*** you," but there's mass denial."

    I think that it actually is conscious. Look at the massive amount of lobbying done by the AARP, how SS and Medicare reforms are considered the 3rd rail in politics, how grandfathered union benefits are killing the big 3, etc. Medicare is not even means-tested (didn't Ross Perot say that he happily took advantage of Medicare - he, a gazillionaire?) Elderly people are not stupid - they know that someone has to eventually pay the piper, but as long as it's not them and the whole thing comes crashing down after they're long gone, they choose to shut their eyes and cover their ears.

  58. My mother has seen her once-generous IRA returns dwindle to almost nothing, which leaves her with social security. She owns her condo but the social security barely keeps up with her bills, HOA dues and property taxes. It's not a very happy ending considering that my father was a successful professional and my folks never got over their depression-era habit of pinching and saving every penny that came their way.

  59. 3:35 PM

    At least your mother has social security. SS will be long gone for you and me and our children.

  60. It's pretty unusual in their generation for the widow of a successful professional to have no income except Social Security.

    Overall, that generation reaped huge amounts in home equity as their children and grandchildren paid outrageous amounts for real estate. And the WWII generation was the beneficiary of the most generous government program in history, the GI Bill, so for them to decided to starve public services and infrastructure is particularly self-serving, shortsighted and hypocritical.

  61. --Of course there are elderly people struggling as well. But the huge amount of home equity that landed on their doorsteps, with no effort on their part, came at the expense of the generations behind them.--

    Nice to see all the compassion. I'm wondering whether any of you actually know any elderly people (not talking about folks in their 50s-60s.) My mother died at 86 virtually penniless, subsisting on her meager SS, her only asset being her house (which was mortgaged to the hilt to help pay her expenses while in her decline.) Most of her contemporaries died in similar situations. Currently, my 93 year old step-mother is heading down the same path. In my experience, the affluent elderly is not the norm.

  62. No one is saying penniless old ladies should be thrown to the streets. My beef is with the opposition to any reform at all, when the current path is clearly not sustainable. Starting with means-testing Medicare and delaying the retirement/benefit-receiving age for SS/IRA (which is based on outdated actuary charts when people didn't live as long) would help greatly.

  63. In a situation where many of our elderly parents and grandparents (my living parents and in-law are 91, 84 and 81) did reap huge real estate appreciation, reverse mortgages are logical and reasonable ways to use that appreciation to provide living expenses. 8:07 makes that sound like it's a bad thing. Why? It's a financial asset, just like any financial asset.

    Of course there are low-income people in that generation, but the fact remains that it's the wealthiest older generation in history, and that there was a massive wealth transfer from the baby boomers and the subsequent generations to that generation. And at the same time, that generation chose to strangle public services such as schools.

  64. Blaming the mythological Child Hating Teacher who went into the profession only to destroy children while being protected by his/her union is tiresome.

    First of all, the idea that the unions protect such teachers is a little overdone. For a union to do so, the teacher must come in for censure/firing//loss of credential from his or her superiors. This rarely if ever happens. I've heard administrators blame unions for teachers that they've given good evaluations - the administrators don't want to deal with the paperwork, and they've got a built-in excuse.

    Moreover, I question the number of Monster Teachers. I've seen various statistics, but not one that explains how the figure was reached. Moreover, many of these figures are associated with pro-charter, pro-voucher, pro-"those schools get too much money" groups (the Hoover Institution, the AEI, etc.).

    Also, it's really blaming the little guy, isn't it? Rather than taking on chronic underfunding, institutional racism, poorly-managed districts, for-profit tests and curricula, we can blame the teachers! Very easy, very straightforward, and very unlikely to challenge systemic inequities.

    Besides which, I am a teacher. So I know that bad teachers - there aren't too many I've met, but I've met a few - tend to either drag a school's morale down with them or be forced out by their fellow teachers. The latter is way more likely in my experience - no one likes working with someone who is unfailingly negative, makes more work for everyone else, etc.

    Also, I kind of resent the argument that California teachers are overpaid. First of all, we're not. And our work is certainly a lot more important (and time-consuming) than your average hedge-fund manager, attorney, white collar administrator, and so on. We also have more specialized training. Oh, and we TEACH YOUR CHILDREN.

  65. To the teacher at 9:53 PM, that was a great post. It keeps things in perspective because it is true that administrators don't want to deal with all of the paperwork and documentation that getting rid of a bad teacher requires. My experience as a teacher has been that these teachers are not horrific, they are just merely bad, so it makes it easier for administrators and also fellow teachers, to justify not doing the paperwork and processes to get rid of them. And there is a lot of paperwork, it's not that the union protects bad teachers, it's that there is substantial paperwork involved. And that is paperwork an administrator has to complete on top of all other duties, so unless the situation is horrific, many just turn a blind eye. Teachers also sometimes just change schools or try to ignore such teachers for the same reasons, it is time consuming and hard to do, especially if the teacher chooses to fight it.

  66. The high cost of elder care is a huge issue that is very hard for our society to face. Since so few families can live on one income any more, it's hard or impossible for many working middle-class families to provide the care their parents or grandparents need at home as they did in previous generations. People are living for many more years after they are no longer able, for physical or mental reasons, to care for themselves. Even elders with sizable assets too often consume those assets on medical and long-term care costs. When an older person's assets run out, they become wards of the state and taxpayer dollars are spent on them rather than schools, infrastructure, etc.--in a country with the highest medical costs in the world. True, there are some property transfer tactics that can accelerate Medicaid eligibility while keeping property in the family, but such transfers are examined closely in Medicaid applications so it's becoming more difficult for people with property to save for their heirs to game the system. How much do we spend keeping our elderly off the ice floes? How much do we spend on education? We are not a society that likes to pay taxes. Somethings got to give, and it seems like it's always the children who do the giving.

  67. Totally agree with the 8:10 am April 17th poster about the unfairness of Prop. 13 and how it has contributed to the collapse of funding for schools. Yes, there are senior citizens with homes who truly are struggling, but a means test for property taxes could protect those folks. Instead, we have a continuing welfare payment for anyone -- individual or business -- lucky enough to have bought property in California a long time ago, including the children of the lucky individuals. And the issue is such a third rail that we can't even discuss it! This is why California is in such a terrible spot!

  68. Warren Buffet (who agrees that Prop 13 is a travesty) said he paid less taxes on his mansion in Pebble Beach than his home in Omaha, NE. Our neighbors live in a multi-million $ home they bought for 5 figures, and they pay $1000/yr in prop taxes. Other than starving funding for education, what else are they starving? Infrastructure, roads, social services, police/fire force... the list goes on.

  69. I send my kid to private school. Like most of my friends.

    You public school guys are all getting my property tax dollars $'s allocated for my kid's free education.

    I agree. WTF? Why do public school suck?

    And I's not prop 13.

    I pay plenty-o-income taxes as well.

  70. Income taxes are state taxes - i.e. the state gets the money and parcels it out. Prop taxes are county taxes (for SF, city and county is same), which is where traditionally the bulk of the education expenses came from. Not so anymore, as another poster pointed out - Prop 13 has reduced the inflow so much that Sacramento has to partially fund education. I'm inclined to think this is not a good thing (given how well the CA legislature seems to be working).

    I (somewhat reluctantly and guiltily) send my kids to private school, too, while paying a ton in prop & state income taxes. Now if CA started a school voucher system... what would happen? Unless schools got better fast, methinks SFUSD would downsize significantly...

  71. 5:20

    Ugh, the property tax canard again. Suggest you look into how our schools are funded.

    Yes, OUR schools. "You guys are getting" the money meant for "my kid's" education? You miss the point. Public education is for all OUR kids. It's a cornerstone how we make a society that works for all of us. You illustrate one of the key problems with private education--the sense of disinvestment felt by parents, especially those like you, whose circle of friends also goes private, from the schools attended by 90% of the kids in America and which represent our future. I do know parents who send their kids to private school and also support the public ones (with contributions, volunteering, and regular votes for adequate public support, yes that means taxation), but it is a danger, and you demonstrate it.

    BTW, or WTF, or whatever, but our public schools don't suck, as a whole, in San Francisco. Some of them aren't that good, but the majority are fine, some are real gems and a few are really terrific. But since hardly anyone you know actually has day-to-day experience in them, how would you know that?

    I'm sure you do pay plenty o' property and income taxes, though apparently you have enough left over to pay for private school for your children--what's that, a half mil commitment or more over a decade or so? The tax situation is more complex than saying you could afford to pay a little more--though I'd bet you could :-), and I love Obama's plan to raise rates on 250K folks back up to the Clinton era (forget the Nixon era rates though, right?). I would love to see divided rolls for the property tax and a more progressive income tax both federally and in CA. It is shameful how we have balanced our budgets on the backs of our children.

    Yes, OUR children.

  72. Hey 9pm. So

    I agree that public schools should be better.

    But now you want me to pay state income taxes, and property taxes, and the higher income taxes I'm expecting from Obama (which i'm cool with)....AND then write another check to the public school system out of the goodness of my heart? Yeah, right.

    How about the State, County and City effectively spending the cash that's already in their hands.

    Dont blame private school parents. Our cash is flowing into the system whether you like it or not.

  73. AND then write another check to the public school system out of the goodness of my heart? Yeah, right.Not out of the goodness of your heart. Don't want your noblesse oblige! Just better tax policies. Relying on philanthropy for small stuff is fine, but a terrible way to build class A schools, health care, fire/police protection, etc.

    Sure, I would hope for broad recognition, even among private school parents, that this investment is not just for my kids or that person's kids over there, but for all of us. As a corollary to that understanding, I would also hope that those who have more bucks, whether the Gates or Buffet families or even just the mere millionaires or hundred-thousandaires, just might be willing to to pony up a little in donations more for special initiatives for our schools.

    But my main focus would be on reforming the tax code! Not to rely on the whims of of resentful rich people who think they pay too much already in taxes :-).

    Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I'm very tired of hearing about high taxes after a generation of moving our country's wealth to the already-wealthy. We had great schools in this country when the tax rates were more equitable.

  74. I must say, following this thread has been somewhat depressing. I read recently (in a book called The Way We Never Were, by Stephanie Coontz) that in the 1950s, 70% of adults had school-aged children. Coontz's theory was that was why there was a general consensus that we should support public education. But by the early '90s, only about 28% of adults had school-aged children. So there was less focus on putting money into schools.

    But to read comments from people who I assume are parents of school-aged children showing a lack of understanding of what Prop 13 did, or complaining about supporting public education since they send their kids to private school.... It's like everyone is focusing on their own particular situations, without looking at the big picture. I guess three decades of anti-tax, everyone-for-themselves propaganda has finally sunk it, even for some people who might otherwise benefit from some changes to the current system.

  75. The truly wealthy have always sent their kids to private schools. What is scary is seeing the acceptance of "you're on your own" ideology from middle class, even upper middle class, parents who really can't afford private school without mortgaging to the hilt and stretching beyond their means. This class of people would very much benefit from higher and more progressive taxes coupled with real investment in education, health care, transportation, and other services.

    Hopefully the pendulum is swinging back now that the contradictions are showing in the economic downturn--you can't mortgage to the hilt when you are underwater. A focus on raising wages and benefits for regular folks combined with a tax system that at least goes back to the Clinton era would make a lot more sense than standing still in terms of real wages and piling on the debt. And the public schools are looking better and better, and not only for other people's kids, although that is important, but for our own. The "we're in this together" mindset, which is a very different orientation to the world.

  76. You'll notice I didnt say I pay too much in taxes, as accused.

    I said I pay plenty and the implication that additional random $'s should be provded by me to the public schools in order for me to be an acceptable member of the SF silly and insulting.

    Here are my tax #'s for '08

    $110K to the Feds
    $30K to the State
    $10K to San Francisco for property taxes (this is a small house: not a prop 13 protected Pac Hts mansion)

    Someone needs to spend this $150K wisely. Dont you think?

    And no my taxes are not too high. They're about 45% of gross income.

  77. 4:31, I think you may be responding to me, from before? I was April 23, 12:16pm. Anyway:

    First: I make no judgments on who is an acceptable member of the SF community, certainly not based on voluntary donations! In fact, I happen to think that funding core functions through voluntary donations is a really silly idea and not a great way to build a first-class school system. That is why the only way to solve the funding problem in a real way is tax reform.

    As a secondary issue, yeah it's fine, great even, if you do want to make a donation, but it's not the solution I'm looking for! Too often we focus on the tree of philanthropy and miss the forest of tax reform. Look, I didn't say you are a bad person if you don't give. I have no expectations that you will, only a hope that everyone will pitch in for the schools for all our kids. I *would* be mad if you told me you voted against tax increases like last year's Prop A, though :-).

    Second: I'm not sure why you think the money that is collected is poorly spent. Most of it goes to pay teachers. I know people complain about central administration, and maybe there is waste and inefficiency there, but seriously, they've made a lot of cuts too. As for the rest of it, I know my kids' school site budgets are transparent and scraped to the bone, not one penny wasted. Seriously, we scrape dimes off the sidewalk to fund stuff over there and fill in gaps. So yeah, I think your taxes need to be spent wisely, but as far as that portion that is paying for the schools, I can't think how it isn't being spent wisely. Can you point to something that shouldn't be funded? Teachers? Supplies like crayons? Balls for the playground? Science curriculum? [scratches head, wonders what could possibly be wrong with those items....].