Marshall Tuck -- California Public K-12 Education; What Do We Need To Do?

California Public K-12 Education

What do we need to do?


California Public K-12 Education

What do we need to do?

Sunday, I attended a fundraiser for Marshall Tuck who is running for State Superintendent of Schools. I was impressed both by his grasp of the magnitude of the challenges facing California’s education system and his clear-eyed view of what needs to change. We are now the 5th largest economy in the world, yet our state ranks in the bottom 10 on public education. It did not used to be that way. In the 70’s we were in the top ten in performance and funding.

 I began researching where California stacks up. According to US News and World Report, we rank 44th; we are 38th in college readiness, 31st in graduation rates, 41st in math, 44th in reading, 38th in pre-Kindergarten quality and 28th in pre-school enrollment. Meanwhile Massachusetts (where I lived many years ago) ranks #1; it is 2nd in college readiness, 13th in graduation rates, 1st in math, 2nd in reading, 24th in pre-school quality, and 4th in pre-school enrollment. Marshall Tuck reports that Massachusetts policy makers from both the public and private sectors decided in the early 90’s to address its poor rankings and led a huge turnaround. California needs to do the same. California was in the top 10 in funding and in performance prior to Proposition 13 and has steadily regressed. For the past 25 years California has made only marginal improvements in our public K-12 education system.

Up in the top ten in educational quality with Massachusetts are: Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, New Jersey, Iowa, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Montana. Down in the bottom ten in public education with California are: New Mexico, Nevada, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alaska, Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina. So our challenge is clear, how do we restore our state’s K-12 public education to compete on an equal footing with our peers in the Northeast and Midwest.

Part of the problem is funding and part is lack of accountability and sustained efforts to improve a badly broken system.

How bad is the funding problem? Well it depends on whose figures you look at; we are either near the bottom or somewhere in the middle of the pack. We rank either 46th, 41st, 29th or 22nd depending on what measure you use. EdWeek uses the federal statistics that are several years out of date and adjusts them for cost of living; it ranks California 46th. The National Education Association uses state reports; it is more current in adjusting for recent increases in state budget funding, and it does not adjust for cost of living. California ranks 22nd. The California Budget Project uses the NEA data with the EdWeek cost of living adjuster; it ranks California 41st. Per pupil spending can be adjusted based on average daily attendance (who shows up) or on fall enrollment (who enrolled). California ranks higher (22nd) using the fall enrollment figures and lower (29th) using the average daily attendance (ADA).

The non-partisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report in January, 2018 looking at K-12 education. We have over 6 million children in K-12 public education; that number has been in slight decline since 2014-15. 60% came from poor families with incomes less than 185% of the federal poverty level ($45,000 for a family of four in 2016-17). Half are Hispanic, 25% white non-Hispanic, 12% Asian and 6% black. One fifth are English learners and 12% have a disability affecting their learning. As compared to the nation as a whole, we have a higher percent of Hispanics and Asians and a lower percent of whites and blacks in our school age populations.

Our average teacher salaries are $79,100, 34% higher than the national average and among the top states in the nation. We have the highest student to teacher ratio in the nation about 20-1, a number that has been in steady decline since 2011-12. So we have better paid teachers with a much worse (but improving) teacher-student ratio. The state’s education budget per pupil adjusted for inflation is now at its highest level in three decades, since the passage of Prop 98, reflecting an increase of about 28% ($2,400 per pupil to $11,067 in the 2017-18 Budget Act) over the past five years.

We have 945 separate school districts in the state and eighty separate school districts within Los Angeles County. We have 1,248 public charter schools and their attendance has grown on average 11% a year over the past decade. They now serve 580,000 students, just under 10% of the state’s total.

We use the Common Core standards to measure student proficiency and are developing new tests to measure science proficiency. In 2017, 49% of all California students were proficient in English and 38% in math; these are slightly improved as compared to 2015 scores. There was a wide gap between low income and non low income students, and in math far lower proficiency for the older students. For example among 11th graders, over 72% of non-poor students were proficient in English and less than 50% in math. By comparison, less than 50% of poorer 11th grade students were proficient in English and less than 20% were proficient in math. The difference is referred to as the “achievement gap”.

California’s achievement gap is the 49th in the nation for 4th graders, indicating we are doing one of the worst jobs in the nation in educating our poorer students. Furthermore, we are doing a spectacularly poor job educating black and Hispanic poorer students in California. Among 11th graders from lower income families, over 70% of Asians met proficiency standards in English, 55% of whites, 45% of Hispanics and 35% of blacks. So we have two challenges: first, improve performance of the public school system for all students and second, close the achievement gaps for lower income students and children of color.

Can it be done? Yes, Massachusetts did it, so can California. Yes, some terrific public charter schools and some terrific public district schools have done it, so can the rest of California’s public schools. Marshall has been associated with two of the big turn around success stories in Los Angeles – the Partnership schools and the Green Dot schools. Partnership took on some of the poorest performing schools in LA and increased graduation rates from 35% to 80%. Ninety-four percent of Green Dot schools are low income; 89% of their class of 2017 earned a high school diploma; eight of their ten high schools achieved top rankings from the US News and World report.

Marshall pointed to the need to better fund our system and to demand higher accountability from it – better funding by itself will not improve student outcomes. He thinks this will take about a decade of sustained effort and commitment. Check him out on the issues, first. We hope you will vote for him on June 5, or before if you vote by mail.


Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin

Dated: 5/8/18