If you’re looking to grade public education in California, pass-fail probably isn’t the way to go but make sure to leave plenty of room in the “comments” section of your report card. On the one hand, the system has bred success. The late Steve Jobs was a product of California’s K—12 system.
Ever since a California superior court determined three years ago that teacher tenure and seniority rights concentrated inexperienced teachers in disadvantaged communities (Vergara v. California), the state’s Board of Education has been trying hard not to think about teacher effectiveness. An appeals court overturned the lower court decision, but the state board remains worried about other legal and political attacks.
California’s economy–on a pace this year to potentially surpass the United Kingdom as the world’s fifth largest–will likely become more and more dependent on the quality of its home-produced labor force. In that regard storm clouds are on the horizon.
The fundamental obstacle to meaningful change for the students in the Los Angeles region can best be summed up by a statement we hear all the time from former students: “I am a proud product of LAUSD.”
A few days from now, 6.2 million children will return to public schools in California. Three million of them can’t read or write at grade level (the number is especially tragic among male African American kids). In reading, California fourth-graders rank among the lowest: forty-eighth in the nation. This isn’t a recent development: twenty-five years ago, we ranked forty-ninth.