DECEMBER 2, 2013 – BY LORI ARNOLD, RESEARCH ANALYST
Just weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Assembly Bill (AB) 375—the only significant school reform measure to advance out of the Legislature this year—newly released national test scores for math and reading affirm the state’s educational system has our children mired in mediocrity.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, California’s fourth-graders ranked 47th in both math and reading, while eighth-graders ranked 42nd in reading and 45th in math. The biennial tests were taken earlier this year and show no advances for California students since the 2011 exam.
Despite persistent funding cries from educators and teachers’ unions, money does not appear to be the magic salve they claim it to be. According to demographics provided by testing officials, California ranked 37th in annual per-student funding with $9,212, yet never managed to climb out of the scoring basement. In addition, 10 states—Kentucky, Colorado, Texas, Florida, South Dakota, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, Idaho and Utah—all receive less funding, but scored higher than California in all four test subjects.
Perhaps the most egregious example of funding disasters is the District of Columbia, which ranks first in funding, with $21,139 per pupil, nearly $3,000 more than New York, the second highest funded state. It also ranks third lowest in class size with a pupil to teacher ratio of just 12:1. Despite all of the resources, D.C. students rank dead last in all four testing categories, with its eighth-graders scoring as much as 18 and 19 points below the national average for reading and math, respectively.
By contrast, Utah, which spends $6,605, 300 percent less than D.C., ranks from 15th in eighth-grade reading to 28th in eighth-grade math, and meets or exceeds the national average in every category. It also has the second highest classroom size—22.8—behind California at 24.1.
A closer look at California’s scores shows that 67 percent of fourth-graders performed at basic or below basic levels in math, just 27 percent were proficient and 5 percent advanced. For reading, the fourth-graders’ performance was even worse with 73 percent scoring at basic or below basic levels, 21 percent were proficient and 6 percent advanced.
The eighth-grade math results show similar results with 72 percent scoring at the basic or below basic level, with 21 percent proficient and 6 percent advanced. In eighth-grade reading, 71 percent of the students scored in the basic or below basic range, 26 percent were proficient and 3 percent were advanced.
In all four categories, California students fell below the national average, ranging from four points for eighth-grade reading to eight points for both fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math.
Relative to the size and scope of California’s public education problems, the vetoed AB 375 was a small but positive step of improvement, proposing streamlining a cumbersome teacher dismissal process that can take years and cost districts millions of dollars. However, we cannot place California’s education woes directly onto teachers, ignoring family problems and other social forces, as well as system-wide questions of leadership and spending.
How the Legislature and local school districts plan to spend an infusion of education dollars approved last year by voters through Proposition 30 remains unknown. Even now, top Democrats appear to be wrestling over Gov. Brown’s plan to decentralize education allocations through his Local Control Funding Formula, approved earlier this year.
We will be monitoring the situation as the Legislature returns to work in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.