More unaccountability from the education establishment

By Larry Sand
November 15, 2017

Too many kids in California are failing, and the powers-that-be are doing nothing effective about it. 

As I wrote recently, the Big Education mandarins are forever pointing fingers at charter and private schools, claiming they’re “unaccountable.” But in reality, there is no entity in America that is less accountable than a unionized, government-run school system. Virtually no one gets fired when they screw up, and when Johnny can’t read it’s not because he wasn’t taught well, but rather it’s somehow due to not enough funding, large class sizes, evil corporations, the Koch Brothers or Betsy DeVos.

The latest example of this pattern took place here in California. Released in March, the California School Dashboard is a rating tool intended to provide a comprehensive way to assess educational performance. Speak Up’s Michael Sweeney explains that in addition to how students fare on the annual standardized test, schools, districts and a dozen student subgroups “are placed into five color-coded categories ranging from the lowest-performing (red) to the highest performing (blue) on measures such as suspension and graduation rates, the performance of English learners, and eventually, chronic absenteeism and college and career readiness. If a district places in the red on two or more of those measures, it triggers mandatory assistance from county offices of education.” 

When all the numbers were thrown into the hopper, the results were not pretty. Because students did not perform well on the state tests they took in the spring, many school districts landed in the red area. But instead of acknowledging those schools’ failure to educate their children, the State Board of Education simply decided to move a bunch of schools from the lowest category because, well, there were too many of them there. The board, brushing aside criticism, referred to the change as “a technical matter.” The lowering of the bar was approved unanimously by the board.

This really doesn’t come as a surprise to those of us who regularly follow the antics of the grown-ups entrusted to educate the young here in the Golden State. Just last month, we officially said good-by to the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which was eliminated by the state legislature in 2015 because too many kids couldn’t pass it. The English–language component of the test addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the exam covered state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I. Worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively, going back to 2006, to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

Then, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, students who were destined not to graduate high school were subjected to bogus “credit recovery” classes. In the City of (Tarnished) Angels, the grad rate zoomed from 54 to 77 percent in 2016 practically overnight because of them. Referring to the higher grad rates, LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King had the temerity to proclaim that she is proud “of the heroic efforts by our teachers, counselors, parents, administrators and classified staff who rally around our students every day.” King’s comments aside, is it any wonder that three quarters of California Community College students and over 40 percent of Cal State school students need remediation?

As with the 2016 standardized test results in California, the 2017 outcomes were awful, showing that about 50 percent of all school children can’t read at grade level. The news was especially dismal for blacks, where almost 70 percent failed to read at grade level.

And if you’re in San Francisco, fuggedaboutit. In Fog City, that progressive enclave by the Bay, only 19 percent of black students passed the state test in reading. But there, the powers that be took action. Yes, they sure did! The school board and union colluded to give teachers in the lowest performing school district in the state a 16 percent across the board pay increase. In a statement, SF Superintendent of schools Vincent Matthews said – reportedly with a straight face – that the agreement was made as part of the district’s “ongoing commitment to attracting and retaining talented educators.” You really can’t make this stuff up.

No, SF teachers en masse don’t deserve a raise. No, we don’t need credit recovery classes. No, we should not have eliminated the CAHSEE. No, we don’t need the state board fiddling with the new dashboard because the results didn’t please them. And as the Freedom Project’s Alex Newman points out we also don’t need more “tax money, smaller class sizes, more LGBT sensitivity training, more interventions, more amphetamines, more dumbed-down ‘standards,’ or bigger government.”

What kids really need is basic reading instruction with a strong emphasis on phonics, which has served many generations well and would continue to do so – if we’d let it. But if we continue to blissfully stroll down Business-as-usual Road, adopting educational fads and kowtowing to every aggrieved interest group on the scene, millions of young Americans will grow up to be functionally-illiterate, politically-correct zombies.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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