School choice, federal sanctions
A Mercury News article (Page 1A, Oct. 20) notes that many parents are not taking advantage of legislation allowing them to transfer their children out of failing public schools. A school official says that, even though many schools are failing, parents "don't really see this label as reflecting the education their own child is getting."
While it's admirable that some parents support their local schools, this doesn't excuse those schools for turning out students who often can't read or write. Nearly one-eighth of California's public schools are failing. In. terms of actual dollars, California spends more on education than any other state. Yet, we trail most of the nation in student achievement.
The transfer option included in the "No Child Left Behind" legislation is designed to allow frustrated parents to move their children to better schools. This freedom of choice is one step in improving student performance in California.
Lance T. Izumi
Director of Education Studies
Pacific Research Institute
In a recent meeting with state superintendents, a federal official representing Education Secretary Rod Paige labeled the concerns of state educators about the No Child Left Behind Act as "bogeymen." This communicated the Bush administration's determination to punish schools not meeting the absurdly unrealistic standards set by Washington bureaucrats.
Most administrators, teachers and board members endorse accountability and high standards. The No Child Left Behind Act, however, is less a plan about accountability than a plot to undercut public education by hammering the most impoverished schools with the blunt instrument of standardized test scores. It also remains pathetically underfunded.
A Gallup Poll revealed that the average citizen knows little about No Child Left Behind. While the spotlight is focused on the war on terrorism, the fight to strengthen public education often feels like a losing battle. Our students and teachers deserve an education policy that seeks to improve teaching and learning, not a political assault.
Superintendent Fremont Union High School District
Both letters to the editor appeared in the Mercury-News, October 26, 2003, page 5P
Izumi's theory that moving children to "better schools" will somehow improve the public system is bankrupt. While this "new-found freedom" may provide some relief to particular parents, it can in no way improve the system as a whole. Indeed, the "better schools" usually turn out to be private schools, who are grateful for the additional dollars paid to them by the local school system, which they would otherwise not receive. The public schools would not only be left with fewer students (and often the more troublesome ones), but with less money for their instruction.
In fact, the "freedom to transfer" has always been there. Any parent willing to pay the tuition can transfer their children to any private or parochial school, and has never been prevented from doing so. What Bush has done is not to make it possible for a child to transfer to a private school, but to make the public school system pay for it.
Izumi's claim that "in actual dollars, California spends more on public education than any other state" is correct, but misleading. The state spent about $45 billion total on public education K-12 in 2002.
Well, we have more children in the public schools than any other state. A better comparison is in dollars spent per child, factoring in the higher cost of living in most California cities. Table 5 of the NEA statistics lists the dollars spent per pupil per year for each state in the union. California ranks 30th this year (31st last year) at $7,244. The highest? The District of Columbia, at $13,355. The lowest? North Dakota, at $4,773. I found all this easily at the NEA web site: http://www.nea.org/edstats/images/03rankingsupdate.pdf.
These are actual dollars, and do not consider differences in cost of living. Housing in California (almost anywhere in California) costs at least twice that in North Dakota, making housing here the single largest factor in any public teacher's personal budget. So by considering the cost of living, California ranks below North Dakota in spending on public education, and should be ranked 52nd in the NEA tables.
It's interesting that DC spends so much on public education ($13,355 per child-year). The next highest state is Connecticut, at $11,378. Could this possibly mean that Congress is taking very good care of their own kids, to the neglect of the rest of the tax-paying nation's kids?
So how did California slip so far, so fast? Of course, we did this to ourselves. With the passage of proposition 13, the school boards (also cities and counties) suddenly were starved for funds. The state government promised to fill the gap with money from the income tax, gaming tax and other state revenue sources, and that sort of worked for a few years. But the shortfalls in the state government revenues, coupled with education cuts year after year have left the schools in a shambles, with no ready means of meeting their obligations.
Steve Rowley's letter clearly expresses the frustration that a school administrator faces in dealing with the new Bush legislation, which places additional requirements on most schools and school systems without providing the added funding needed to meet those requirements. Smaller class sizes, better qualified teachers, adequate teaching supplies, and well-maintained schools are something we'd all like to see, but we are not going to get these under the new federal plan. Will this president and Congress get serious about supporting the public schools financially? There's no indication that either intends to. We instead are treated to polemics such as Izumi's, that misstate the true situation, and gloss over our difficulties with slogans.
Several years ago, the Republican Congress, under Newt Gingrich's leadership, tried to abolish the federal Education Department. I now wish they had succeeded. Under George W. Bush, it has become the Dis-Education Department, and threatens to further damage our already stressed K-12 public school systems. Does anyone know what's going on? Does anyone care?