N■ By Larry Sand / Contributed
ovember saw a rash of stories about the troubled public schools monolith.
As I wrote last week, the public education brand is in trouble, and as 2017 fades away, a wave of stories is sending the year out with not a bang or a whimper, but rather with an unceremonious thud.
A Public Policy of California report finds that just 30 percent of all California 9th graders are expected to earn a bachelor’s degree. Also, only 45 percent of the graduating class of 2016 completed college preparatory courses, which are required to be considered for admission to any state school. It must be noted that the state will spend about $75 billion on education this year, which represents about a 60 percent increase in the last 6 years. But whatever we spend, it will never be enough for the “we need to invest more in education” crowd.
In San Francisco, the statistics for black students are especially grim. In fact, SF NAACP President Amos Brown told the local school board that it should declare a state of emergency, because just 19 percent of black students are proficient in English, compared to 31 percent of black students statewide. San Francisco, a progressive enclave, has the worst black student achievement of any county in California.
In Chicago, the 5-year moratorium on public school closings which began in 2013 is about to expire, and the mayor is talking about shuttering 50 more. Some 190 Chicago schools have each lost more than 100 students since 2013. It’s a shame for kids who want to go to a school down the street, but when the school down the street is failing them miserably, is depopulating, and getting rid of their incompetent teachers is next to impossible, what else can be done?
In Baltimore too, the school district has just recommended closing six city schools because of declining enrollment and poor academic performance.
For the truly obscene, we go to Washington, D.C., where Ballou High School saw every one of its 164 seniors graduate. Sound too good to be true? Well, it is. An investigation found that the school’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. Half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. Twenty percent were absent more than present, missing more than 90 days of school. The 2017 standardized tests revealed that just 9 percent of the students were proficient in English, while zero percent were proficient in math. Tragically, many of the college bound students cannot read or write. (By the way, the favorite whipping boy of the ed establishment, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, managed to have a 98 percent grad rate, and 94 percent of the students moved onto a post-secondary education…legitimately.)
The naysayers will say these stories are cherry-picked, but they are not. Yes, there are some fabulous traditional public schools and districts across the country, but there are way too many San Franciscos, Chicagos, Baltimores, and D.C.s.
Of course, many self-described progressives will look beyond the educational establishment to place blame. Perhaps most typical is the Education Opportunity Network, part of the Institute for America’s Future, a far left outfit which asserts that everything that is wrong with America can be laid at the feet of Republicans/Conservatives. Chief writer Jeff Bryant typifying the bias and tunnel vision at EON, claims that our edu-problems are – you guessed it – due to a lack of funding and pointed to the D.C. tax bill as a huge problem. In the hysterically titled “GOP War On Learning Continues In Senate Tax Plan, State Funding Cuts,” he writes, “As the Republican-controlled Congress continues to advance tax plans that slash funding from public education, a new report reveals how state and local government officials, especially where GOP leadership dominates, have continued a decade-long campaign to keep school funding below levels that preceded the Great Recession.”
Memo to Bryant: Money is hardly the issue. Between 1970 and 2012, our education spending tripled nationally (in constant dollars) and student achievement has been flat. In fact, Washington D.C. spends almost 3 times more per student than Utah, yet schools in the Beehive State are far superior and not one of them had to fudge their graduation rate.
For more progressive edu-bilge, a new book is due out next month. Bill “Mad Bomber” Ayers et al have penned “You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones!”: And 18 Other Myths about Teachers, Teachers Unions, and Public Education. Yes, the proud “Small c” Communist, Pentagon bomber and – even scarier – education professor (thankfully emeritus) at the University of Illinois wants to debunk persistent misconceptions about teachers, their unions, school choice, charter schools, etc.
He spews gems like “Tenure doesn’t so much help teachers keep their jobs, as it protects a teacher’s freedom to do an excellent job,” and even loopier, “Market choice has the same impact in education as it does in any other market—it creates a few winners alongside many losers, and it favors those with recourses [sic], capital, and connections.”
Talk about “myths.”
In addition to Ayers, others in the education establishment have been trashing charters and other kinds of school choice at a furious pace of late…using bogus studies as proof. As public education becomes more tarnished, those really responsible continue to blame everyone else for their failings.
More on this soon.
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. This article was originally published Dec. 5, 2017 by California Policy Center, an educational nonprofit focused on public policies that aim to improve California’s democracy and economy. This article has been edited for style; to read the original, which includes hotlinks, visit https://californiapolicycenter.org/big-educations-bad-month/.