Obscure the Declining Performance of California Public Schools

School union protestEducational bureaucrats complain that charter and private schools are “unaccountable.” But in reality, no institution in America is less accountable than unionized, government-run school systems. Virtually no one gets fired when they do a poor job, and when Johnny can’t read, it’s not because he wasn’t taught well, but rather because funding was insufficient, class sizes were too big, poverty was overwhelming — or Betsy DeVos was making everything worse. And when the public schools are shown not to be living up to their promises, the educrats move the goalposts to disguise their shortcomings.

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The latest example of this pattern is unfolding right now. The California School Dashboard is a comprehensive rating tool to assess educational performance. Schools, districts, and various student subgroups get placed into five color-coded categories ranging from red (bottom performers) to blue (best performers) on how students fare on the state’s annual standardized test, along with other measures including graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, and college readiness. If a district places in the red on two or more of these metrics, the county offices of education are called in for assistance.

Alarm bells sounded when the 2017 standardized test results in California were announced. They revealed that about 50 percent of schoolchildren can’t read at grade level. The news was especially dismal for black schoolchildren — almost 70 percent failed to read at grade level. When all the data were crunched, the outcomes revealed that, because of the poor test results, many school districts were deep in the red zone. But instead of acknowledging those schools’ failure, the State Board of Education simply decided to move a bunch of schools out of the lowest category. The board brushed aside criticism, referring to the lowering of standards as “a technical matter,” and the change was approved unanimously.

This brazen ploy is the latest in a series of similar efforts by the Golden State education establishment. Just last month, we officially said goodbye to the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which the state legislature eliminated 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 only as far as grades six and seven and Algebra I. Worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively, going back to 2006, to students who had passed their coursework but failed the test.

Some cities have used their own methods to lower standards. In 2015, the Los Angeles school board decided to roll back graduation requirements, allowing students to pass A-G courses (classes that are required for college entrance) with a “D” instead of a “C.” If that wasn’t enough, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, students who are destined not to graduate high school get to take “credit-recovery” classes. Some are effective, but many are devoid of meaningful content. Students often complete them in a few hours or over a weekend. Due to the courses, the graduation rate in L.A. zoomed from a projected 54 percent to 77 percent in 2016 within a few months. Referring to the higher graduation rates, L.A. School Superintendent Michelle King had the chutzpah 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 California State university system students need remediation?

In San Francisco, only 19 percent of black students passed the state test in reading, yet 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, San Francisco Superintendent of Schools Vincent Matthews said that the agreement was made as part of the district’s “ongoing commitment to attracting and retaining talented educators.

While San Francisco undoubtedly has some wonderful teachers, they do not deserve a raise en masse. We do not need credit-recovery classes. We should not have eliminated the CAHSEE. We don’t need the state board fiddling with the new dashboard because the results were poor. 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 kids well for generations and would continue to do so, if we let it. But if we continue to stroll blissfully down Unaccountability Lane, adopting educational fads and eliminating standards, millions of young Americans will grow up to be functionally illiterate, with dismal future prospects. This is beyond shameful. School boards, administrators, and teachers must be held accountable for the failing systems they run.


  1. Wow. This is sad and disturbing.

  2. The problem is this: Government teacher’s union don’t negotiate with the public whose tax money they are spending. They negotiate with politicians who have no skin in the game. So the politicians, not losing any money themselves, give the unions whatever they want. The public pays the bill so who cares. The politicians get the grateful votes and act like they care. It is not the way to get the best bang for your education buck. Public education, the students, and the taxpayer will continue to get hosed as long as this situation continues.

  3. Education, the battle for the future of the country. Insanity, doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Perhaps instead of the NFL taking an anthem knee, they rise to help a broken school system change. School choice is, trying something different. Businesses are clamoring for talented workers and the nation cannot fill the void completely. Educated immigration can fill the need, what a slap to our education system having to go outside the U.S. to fill business needs.
    Education and our national debt, the two biggest security threats to our nation. Education in inner-cities could end the violence.

  4. My child is homeschooled, passed the early exit for college at 12yrs and is now in junior college. If that isn’t parental focus, a large homeschooling community and the government absent in my curriculum choice not to mention the political correct agenda like global warming, recycling and community organizing, plus activism then where does the answer fall? No to common core, I-phones and I-pads yes to reading, straight math and vocabulary, science and real history not feel good history. You will have a capable individual that is capable competing in the job market.

  5. Good article about California’s lacking education system. This system will never change as long as Californians continue to vote for Democrats election after election. A mix of ideologies is critical to our form of goverment.

  6. Victoria Smith says

    This is appalling. I knew our public education system was in the toilet. This is why I have paid for grandchildren to go to private school. However, Jerry Brown is attempting to drive private schools out of business with his mandatory wage increases.

  7. retiredxlr8r says

    Public employee unions are unethical.
    Should be outlawed and they are immoral.
    Decertify the unions or remove their political influence.
    You will not, you can not correct this problem until you act on removing the unions and restructuring their pensions.

    • Labor union MONOPOLIES are the problem. Voluntary association (or not) must be the rule. Pensions should be defined contribution, not defined benefit (which burden our future).

  8. If only those damn kids weren’t such poor students.

    • True Teacher says

      What a vapid and useless comment. In sarcastically skewering teachers, you adopt the beliefs of those Romantic Progressives who think that children have no accountability to learn, and that purely masterful and brilliant teaching will make losers into winners.

  9. As a nationally recognized reading specialist, the problem is much larger than the data released shows. “What kids really need is basic reading instruction …we continue to stroll blissfully down Unaccountably Lane” is a very true statement. However, teachers hands are tied. They are the “factory worker” whose product is determined by the unions, administrators, school boards, and state. Every student, classroom, school, and region should have the specific reading levels known- so informed decisions can be discussed. That is ignored, and that is a huge problem. Do you know your child’s reading level, and are monitoring it to make sure it is progressing on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? It is as simple as that.. nothing to do with private, or homeschool, or public. Many do not have that data.. and everyone should. Most states do have such analysis.

    • I know of a child who, during 2nd grade, learned her reading level was 10th grade. Did her previous home schooling influence this achievement?

  10. Kathryn Kelly Epstein says

    The author needs a class in statistics. 50% of the students will always be “below grade level” because grade level is defined by where 50% of the students are at. This type of testing is and always has been a shell game The tests are essentially norm-referenced, although all kinds of recent junk tries to pretend they aren’t. American schools are assessed in a way that makes it impossible for teachers or parents or the public to find out anything useful. And why does it continue?……One good place to start is with the several billion dollar testing industry and their power over legislators.

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