Thursday, October 1, 2009

UC Berkeley's 'Daily Cal' reports on the state of California K-12 public education

Here's an excerpt from an article in the Daily Cal:

Two years ago, California spent significantly less on schools than most other states. Now we are making deep cuts in educational spending. Two years ago, California ranked nearly last in the nation in the number of adults per student in our schools. Now we are laying off teachers. Two years ago, California faced a severe shortage of college graduates in the coming decade. Now the UC and CSU systems are eliminating classes and restricting enrollments.

In 2007, the "Getting Down to Facts" (GDTF) studies provided a comprehensive diagnosis of the state of education in California and some guidance on the kinds of policy change needed to reform our state's education system ( Shortly thereafter, the Governor's Committee on Educational Excellence (GCEE) published a report called "Students First" that laid out a comprehensive strategy to improve the performance of California's schools and students (

At the time, there was broad agreement on two key points. First, California would have to spend more money-a lot more money-on K-12 education to accomplish the state's ambitious educational goals. Second, new spending would have to be accompanied by dramatic reforms in the way California's education system is organized and operated. More money by itself would not produce better results.
To read the full article click here.


  1. This is depressing. Between this and the recent report published by the National Academy of Sciences regarding the state of science education in K-8 California schools, I'm at a loss. Is there anything parents can do? Or is it just government bureacracy? What's the solution? The PTAs in SF are putting forth a valiant effort, but what can be done at a higher level? Ideas?

  2. My wife just spent a thousand dollars of our money on a document camera and projector for her classroom. I fully supported the purchase, but it's wrong on so many levels. Feel that PTA's and teachers spending their own money on supplies is actually enabling government and the general public from stepping away from the responsibility of providing a good public education. Personally, I think changing the 2/3 budget requirement is the first step - but there is a long, long way to go.

  3. 11:49.

    I agree whole-heartedly.

    Public schools--all of them--should have access to the funds they need to outfit their schools. It's appalling that teachers, PTAs, and parents are expected to fill the gap when local governments and the state don't allocate money to schools.

  4. Agree that while PTAs are doing their best to save their schools they are enabling the gov't to further slack off. But they (the PTAs, teachers, etc.) can't NOT do what they are doing... isn't it a question of cutting off your nose to spite your face?

    What happened to the proposal to include an initiative ending the 2/3 rule on the June 2010 ballot?

  5. While this new is depressing, there are many things that parents and all those who are concerned about education can do.

    The first is to become more informed about what is happening with our state budget.

    I don't think there is any one issue to point a finger at. For a number of years, we've been looking for one or two things to point a finger at . . . vehicle license fees, tax cuts for the rich, prisons, prop 13 . . .

    We need to become better informed on where our tax dollars are coming from and going to.

    Parents also need to join forces with other entities that are concerned about K-12 education, such as teachers, school boards, the UCs, and some business leaders, especially in the high tech sector.

    These entities don't necessarily have the same take on the problem and thus far, haven't always been working together effectively.

  6. Regarding the drive to end the 2/3 rule for voting on new taxes--what I have heard is that the polling is not (unfortunately) very favorable. There is a LOT of conversation about what would make the most sense in terms of a ballot measure that could win. Certainly it would not be to lower the rule to a simple majority, but maybe 55%? But a lot of worry that it wouldn't pass.

    Silly voters think they are a step or lottery ticket away from wealth and that taxes hurt them, not remembering that most of us benefit from taxes (roads, public transit, firefighting, medical safety net, parks, and oh yeah SCHOOLS pre-K-16). We have the wealth to be a first-class state, if we choose.

    But we are trying to be a high-service, low-to-middle tax state, and that does not work. We can pick high-service, high-tax, like Massachusetts; or low-service, low-tax like Mississippi. The mix we have chosen is fiscal madness.

    Seriously hope a reasonable ballot measure makes it on and that a mighty campaign is waged. This is one of the major steps that California needs to take to restore sanity.

    Another would be modifying the draconian term limit laws that are giving us the carousel government and dimished leadership skills. Another is modifying Prop 13--at least divide the rolls, residential and commercial! And overcome the current generation gap wherein we younger folks, who are raising the next generation, are paying for our share and the share of those who bought in the 1970's and 1980's. Another would be to modify the ballot measure laws. Populist rule has its place, but has been taken over by slick and devious and well-funded campaigns that masquerade as populist.

    We desperately need these reforms if we are to make any headway at all at any level of education.

  7. Regarding whether or not, PTA's or teachers "can NOT do what they are doing" re: providing additional funds for schools. Do we expect doctors and nurses at SFGH to help pitch in to buy a new CT scan? Is the neighborhood in which a fire station located expected to help buy hoses? What is the difference? My wife and I recognize that there is a gap that needs to be filled and that is why we put out our own money to help buy supplies for her classroom, especially given the demographics of her students. I don't think it is right, though, or should be expected. I agree with the earlier poster who said that we should either be a high-tax, high service or low-tax, low service state. I'd rather we were honest about our committments rather than trying to do more with less.

  8. Could you also speak to the need to join policy with budget?

    So often, the public passes a ballot measure that is completely unfeasible fiscally.

    There was a very good Economist article in May about some of the issues you are talking about such as the problems with the 2/3rd majority. The article is titled with the grim byline "The ungovernable state" so don't cringe when you start to read it.

    Could you suggest other articles we parents could read to understand the issues behind suggested changes to the 2/3rds majority ballot measure?

    Why 55%? That seems odd.

    And I agree with you that we can't have it both ways. We have to decide if we are going to be high service, high tax or low service, low tax. We are kind of in denial.

    Also, very good point about prop 13 in terms of looking at it on both the commercial and residential side. Any suggested reading on this?


  9. I was the one that said PTAs, teachers etc. can't NOT do what they are doing -- I didn't mean that they SHOULD be doing it, I just meant that unfortunately they don't always have much of a choice if they want their classrooms to be efficient, comfortable places to learn. Like your wife, my mother was a public school teacher who spent a lot of her money buying things from carpet to computers for her classroom. It's ridiculous and clearly should not be expected, but in her situation she didn't want her kids sitting on cold hard floors.

    I would love to see Calfornia at 50% + 1, or 55%. I'm not holding my breath though... I'm willing to bet that the campaign to keep 2/3 will have a lot more money to wage a formidable fight than the campaign to end it.

  10. Here is what I am looking for...

    Is there an organization that exists, that is providing a roadmap to fix California's budget/governance problem?

    I am looking for an organization that can organize and align the various groups operating independently

  11. Thanks for clarifying your point, 1:42 PM. But extending the argument, I do take exception with those people who think that just focusing on greater utilization by middle class families of public schools will help solve the problems of public schools because they can bring more resources and write grants and somehow take care of their school. This propagates the mindset that individual schools are on their own and their parent groups will take care of their community and student populations like my wife teaches gets left out in the cold. This is a systemic problem of which we all need to take ownership.
    Regarding the other comments of what we as parents need or can do, I am starting to think that the way things get done in government, that parents need their own lobbying political action committee. The teacher’s unions are not looking out for the schools and everybody else just pays lip service to education because it helps them get elected.

  12. The 55% or 60% is being suggested because most people think a simple majority doesn't have an an ice cube's chance in hell of winning at the ballot.

    Organizations working to repeal the 2/3 requirement:

    Also read this for a start:

  13. there should be an html at the end of that last Beyond Chron article....

  14. I do take exception with those people who think that just focusing on greater utilization by middle class families of public schools will help solve the problems of public schools because they can bring more resources and write grants and somehow take care of their school. This propagates the mindset that individual schools are on their own and their parent groups will take care of their community and student populations like my wife teaches gets left out in the cold. This is a systemic problem of which we all need to take ownership.

    *wild applause*

    Considering only economics, skimping on education will have great costs later, and we will all pay them. It's shortsighted; even if one funds their child's school, the poor outcomes from other schools in the state not able to tap parents have an economic cost to be born by one's children. And that's without getting into moral arguments or simple social justice at all.

  15. I'll check out the restore majority rule link and the beyond chron article.

    Thank you for taking the time to put this information up.

    Also, I second, third and fourth the statement that it is high time to stop making schools and districts prop up inadequate funding with local fund raising.

  16. Another organization to check into:

  17. Here are are all the organizations and their links that are working on K-12 education advocacy and/or state budget issues. (The list is a little lean on organizations that are working in the area of the humanities. Apologies! Please feel free to add organizations that you know of.)

    I am sorry to the person who asked for ONE single organization that is advocating for better funding of K-12 education. I don't know of a single group, but many organizations that are looking at K-12 funding from different angles.

    Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy

    California Teachers Association

    Silicon Valley Leadership Group Check out Education Initiatives

    UCs: Maybe someone else can speak to what and who is organizing at UC Berkeley or UC San Francisco regarding cuts to education, both K-12 and higher education.

    New America Foundation, Steven Hill

    Bay Area Council, Jim Wunderman
    Business sponsored, public-policy advocacy organization for the Bay Area. Advocates for a strong economy, a vital business environment and a better quality of life.

    Public Policy Institute of California, Mark Baldassare

    California Forward, James Mayer

    Repair California

    San Francisco

    Parents for Public Schools

    Individuals and Foundations

    Jacqueline Dorrance, Executive Director of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation
    Science Education

    Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science, Biochemist, UC San Francisco

  18. hey isnt 40% of the state budget already set aside for education? how much more do we need.

    also, cant the people that oversee this blog delete spam posts in mandarin characters? what's the problem?

  19. "also, cant the people that oversee this blog delete spam posts in mandarin characters? what's the problem?"

    It's only one person and I think she's too busy to monitor her blog. Many people have suggested using word recognition to cut down on the SPAM and still allow folks to post anonymously.

  20. I think k-12 education is 30% of the state expenditure. I don't actually know if they need more money for education or if they need to figure out how administer it better so that the schools actually get money. I'd be curious to know how much of that 30% actually trickles down to individual schools, because a lot of it seems to get lost along the way.

  21. Inefficiencies and overhead. Our country also spends the highest percentage (15% GDP) on healthcare and yet can't manage to cover everyone while France spend 11% and has universal health coverage (ofcourse they also pay privately for insurance for more coverage but then again in the U.S. so do we...I pay over $700 a month for 2 people - dental and health)

  22. hey isnt 40% of the state budget already set aside for education? how much more do we need.

    First of all, it's not 40%. More like 30%.

    Secondly, unlike in most states, California schools do not rely on local property taxes supplemented by state funds. This is the legacy of Prop 13. So it may look top-heavy, but the state has a mandate to educate over 6 million children, all with different needs, and some of them quite profound. In other places, the local towns contribute much more.

    This is a necessity if we want the next generation to support a vibrant California. We should want every child to succeed. But to do this well takes major bucks.

    The needs of the 21st century are not the same as the middle 20th nor the 19th century. Most kids 100 years ago could get a 8th grade education and find work on a farm or in a factory. 50 years ago, a high school diploma but no more didn't exclude someone from a family-wage job, with benefits, and a decent retirement. Today's trades work doesn't necessarily require a bachelor's degree, but it does require special training....and many jobs do require that bachelor's.

    This is called investment in human capital. California needs to be doing more of it, just as we need to invest in our infrastructure. Instead, we've spent the last 15 years building new prisons to accommodate the three strikes law.

  23. Please, please don't lose sight of the UC system, either. It is imploding, since July. Tuition is skyrocketing, faculty have taken pay cuts, programs are closing, and class size is increasing while staff and TA help is dwindling. What happened to K-12 has now hit higher education in CA like a tsunami (OK, not the recent tsunami, a metaphorical tsunami). Unless we support the UCs with our votes, media outlets, etc., CA children will no longer be guaranteed a college education in the best public education system in the country.

    The privatization of K-12 has already happened, via defunding and PTAs composed of middle class families taking up the slack. The privatization of the UCs is almost complete. Off my soapbox, but it's all related.

  24. "I do take exception with those people who think that just focusing on greater utilization by middle class families of public schools will help solve the problems of public schools because they can bring more resources and write grants and somehow take care of their school."

    It's not *just* the resources that middle class people bring, it's also the political and policy-making influence they have.

  25. As a public school teacher in a struggling school district, i.e. low test scores, I can attest to the fact that a majority of ed funding is allocated to the district administration, categorical funding and testing consultants. This is where most of the money goes. Some school districts, especially ones that meet their API, are able to allocate more to money to the classroom, because they don't or won't sacrifice students and their education for one more "Director of Special Services and Curriculum" position. These districts tend to be more affluent and they know parents will vote with their feet if the curriculum and teachers are not suitable for their children. I don't have any statistics to verify my claim, I am only mentioning what I've witnessed over the last 20 years of public school teaching.

  26. Meanwhile, BOE President Kim-Shree Maufas is having a ball with an SUFSD credit card:

  27. I would like to thank the school teacher who put up the post about how an insufficient amount of funds make it to the classroom.

    I read an article over the weekend about Arne Duncan's proposed 'Race to the Top' program. It proposes three or four changes to how funds are allocated to schools.

    While I like some of the proposed changes in 'Race to the Top' one thing that concerns me are the proposed changes to how teachers are evaluated. It proposes linking teacher's salaries and advancement to test scores.

    What greatly concerns me about this is that a school in a disadvantaged district might have low scores because children do not have enough support at home, not because of poor teaching.

    With Arne Duncan's proposal, there will be no insentive to teach in a school with a lot of disadvantaged kids.

    A more sophisticated evaluation and reward method is needed.

    And, by the way, I'm not a teacher or in any way affiliated with public schools. Just a concerned parent and citizen.

    Any thoughts out there on this?

  28. Like the above poster, I've long been troubled by the idea of tying teacher salaries to test scores, precisely because it ignores the fact that not all students come prepared to learn at the same rate and in the same way. But this can be overcome if you look at the progress individual students make year over year--for example, did you improve student outcomes more than the predicted amount based on where they started off.


    I’m not 100% sure, but reading this article and others about Arne Duncan’s plans – I think the point is to tie pupil data to teacher salaries – not just blindly following test scores. This means looking for improvements – if anything this might actually incentivize teachers to teach in lower-performing schools because they can make greater changes. I know my wife can get 30-50% increases in reading scores after one year. If there were financial advantages to that, it could be a very powerful leveling agent to get better teachers teaching the kids who need it most. Reading the rest of the article, it seems that it is a also a multi-layered approach that tries to leverage the somewhat constrained power of the federal government to make change in the local level. For the anti-charter people out there, there are penalties for not allowing charter school. Overall, I am intrigued and satisfied. As someone who has spent a little time thinking about education policy, I‘d say it is better approach then I would have hoped for. But that’s just me… :)

  30. Yes, I also read the Economist article. Thanks for posting the link.

    I haven't read the details of 'Race to the Top,' but if it actually looks at beginning and end of year results, and if teachers are satisfied with that, what is the hold up?

    The article mentions that there are concerns would that it would violate existing contracts with teachers in some states. (California, per chance?)

    What is the hold up? How come California isn't on the slate to get these 'Race to the Top' $$$s?

  31. 8:42

    In part, we are not slated to get those $$$ because CA is cutting education dollars. We are precisely not in a "race to the top." San Francisco talked with Arne Duncan when he was here last spring about districts applying separately--we haven't been cutting dollars in SF, so far--but it is state by state. Which makes no sense in a huge state like Cali which has so much going on....we are more like a country than a state (though a dysfunctional one)--the Bay Area alone is bigger than Wyoming, Vermont, and several other states.

  32. That is sad. Thank you for the information.