Dan Walters

California tolerates failing schools for millions of kids

In this 2015 photo, poor students are served breakfast at the Stanley Mosk Elementary School in Los Angeles. About 80 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District are considered to be poor or English-learners, qualifying the district for extra state funds to raise their academic achievement. Statewide, about 60 percent of students are considered “at-risk” for poverty or lack of English skills.
In this 2015 photo, poor students are served breakfast at the Stanley Mosk Elementary School in Los Angeles. About 80 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District are considered to be poor or English-learners, qualifying the district for extra state funds to raise their academic achievement. Statewide, about 60 percent of students are considered “at-risk” for poverty or lack of English skills. AP

As they declare implacable resistance to Donald Trump, politicians from Gov. Jerry Brown downward portray California as an island of tolerance.

That’s certainly true in one respect. We Californians, including our politicians, tolerate a K-12 school system that’s failing to properly educate millions of poor students of color.

Yes, those politicians talk a lot about the “achievement gap” that separates those students from their more privileged white and Asian-American classmates, and throw a lot of money at it.

Per-pupil spending is up 50 percent since Brown became governor, and will top $11,000 for the first time in his new budget. Moreover, much of the new money has been directed to school districts with large numbers of “high-needs” students.

However, Brown, et al, are unwilling to closely monitor how the extra money is spent, assuming that local school officials will do the right thing, or whether it’s closing the achievement gap.

They’ve ignored independent studies by prestigious organizations indicating that much of the extra money is being diverted away from the targeted students.

Another prestigious organization called GreatSchools, backed by a who’s who of foundations, has just issued another report on California schools that probably will be ignored as well.

Released on the 63rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation in schools, the new report concludes that California schools are highly segregated in academic outcomes and conditions inside the schools, such as access to rigorous course offerings and experienced teachers.

The GreatSchools report offers school-by-school data and concludes that it’s “a tale of two educational systems – one that offers 59 percent of white and 73 percent of Asian students in the state with access to educational opportunities and high student achievement, and one where the same opportunities and advantages are only accessible to 2 percent of African-American and 6 percent of Hispanic students.”

“We have long known about gaps in outcomes, but this report shows extreme gaps in opportunity, which calls into question our fundamental commitment to equity and fairness,” GreatSchools president Matthew Nelson said.

However, as the study director, Samantha Olivieri, said Tuesday, “The statistics are not destiny.” The report also lists 156 “spotlight schools” which have large numbers of poor, Latino or black students and excel in learning environments and academic outcomes.

About a third of those schools are charters, but most are directly managed by local school districts, proving that achievement gaps can be closed with proper resources and dedicated faculties.

Were California as progressive as its politicians pretend, and were they not in thrall to the California Teachers Association and the rest of the education establishment, they would condemn the shameful conditions revealed in the report and insist that the successful schools be replicated statewide.

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