A chance to deliver school reform 

The best aspect of the much-anticipated, nonpartisan $3 million California school quality report is how definitively it spotlights the desperate flaws of this state’s teaching system. It will be hard indeed for politicians and school offcials to ignore the evidence showing that no substantive improvement can be made without dramatic top-to-bottom reform.

Yet, what is most disheartening about the two-year, 1,700-page package is that it also leaves no doubt howseverely intractable these school problems have become and how deeply entrenched are the political positions of competing special interests.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the leading Democratic state officials solicited four major foundations — including those with the familiar philanthropic names of Gates and Hewlett — to independently organize and fund a massive research effort by dozens of academics. The results are now out in 23 separate papers released during two days last week.

"Getting Down to Facts" focuses on why California’s $60 billion K-12 budget — half of the state’s entire spending — embarrassingly delivers a student ranking of just 48th nationally in both reading and math. These findings now go to the governor’s nonpartisan Committee on Education Excellence, which is supposed to recommend detailed solutions by late summer.

Gov. Schwarzenegger pledged to make 2008 his year of school reform, just as he is making 2007 his year to concentrate on a health care reform program, plus prison overcrowding and election redistricting. Certainly it will require a year to assemble a legislative plan offering any realistic hope of achieving significant improvement in student outcomes.

Naturally, the study also calls for a massive spending increase — $25 billion in the most widely endorsed estimate, which is based simply on a poll of school administrators. Yet even some co-authors of the funding research freely admit there is little proven correlation between school spending and student learning.

As the Pacific Research Institute puts it, California’s gradual decline from academic leadership cannot be blamed on any spending shortfall. It results from the flawed ways California spends money on learning.

Many of the study’s criticisms are all too familiar. State funding restrictions take away budget control from local schools where the most pressing priorities are best understood. Excessive regulations require paperwork that wastes time better used for improving instruction.

But perhaps more convincingly than ever, "Getting Down to Facts" makes the case that "solely directing more money into the current system will not dramatically improve student achievement." Now the big question remaining is whether California will finally generate the political will to make necessary changes in a failing but deeply entrenched system.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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