Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Jill Stewart- Wrong from the start

Jill Stewart wrote and SN &R printed another one of her regular assaults on public schooling in California. Steward in her rant, like other critics from the Right, uses tortured logic and tortured data.

Steward argues that we should use median cost per pupil rather than average cost per pupil as a measure. Her reasoning is that there are three states and the District of Columbia who allocate so much money that averages are distorted. That makes no sense.
There are far more than three states who provide totally inadequate funding (try Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee) and balance the high states. Apparently she is trying to make a case about the difference between median and average. She has not figured it out yet.

If you use average per pupil expenditure, Steward claims California is $489 per student behind. (Better data is available at EdSource.org).
So, the class which your child attends lacks $489 per student and there are 30 students, or $14,670 per class. An average elementary school might have 30 classes. So, this average California school is $440,100 under the average of the nation. Yes, that makes a difference. That is why California children rank so low in reading and math. You get what you pay for.

But the real issue is why are there thousands of schools failing in California?
The failure of this Governor and prior governors to improve schools in our low income neighborhoods creates the problem. These schools often have miserable working conditions. High schools throughout the state are over crowded making it difficult to teach. And, elementary schools in low income areas has a much as 40% of their teachers new and inexperienced.
What political leaders could do would be to improve the working conditions in these schools. Make smaller, safer schools. Provide enough counselors and librarians. (California ranks 49th. out of 50 states in Counselors and Librarians, and books). Provide quality stable school leadership rather than the current revolving door system. And, provide support and time for new teachers to learn from more experienced teachers. Practical steps to reduce the new teacher attrition rate in difficult schools will do more than the Governor’s proposals for merit pay to improve teaching conditions.
Stewart continues her campaign to support the Governor’s educational follies using data and arguments from the Hoover Institute. But, there are things that can be done in this year’s budget. These changes do not require a 70 million dollar special election. In fact, you could use the $70 million to improve the schools rather than to hold another election.
Improving schools could be achieved with political leadership. Instead the Governor chooses to pick a fight with the unions and to impose a $70 million election on us. This decision reveals political spin- not leadership. And Stewart is an accomplice to the spin doctors.

Duane Campbell
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