Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction, views his reelection bid as a referendum on education reform. He faces limited opposition, but he still hopes that people will vote in large numbers in his race to keep the pressure on him, on the rest of the state government and on the schools themselves to improve public education. We endorse both Honig's candidacy and his call for continued support for education, because the schools still face enormous problems.
Since his election four years ago, Honig--together with key legislators, Gov. George Deukmejian and dedicated principals, teachers and parents--has started to turn around the public's attitude toward the schools. Honig can be justly proud of his role in establishing more exacting standards for high-school graduation, winning more money for the schools, starting to improve textbooks and, perhaps most important, mobilizing the business community to back education reforms.
But momentum alone will not keep public education moving through the challenges that California faces in the next decade. Students are spilling out of existing classrooms. More schools are needed. Old schools need repairs. More equipment is needed, especially to help teach students the basics of science and mathematics that they will need to survive in the 21st Century.
Thousands of new teachers will be needed because of the growing enrollment and because many teachers who entered the profession after World War II will be retiring. Sheer numbers won't do; teachers must be well trained, well paid and well treated.
California's school-dropout rate, especially among Latinos, should deeply disturb every citizen in the state. The state needs better information on why students drop out, more attention to identifying potential dropouts and even more attention once they're identified.
The state is still wrestling with the best means to educate the children of immigrants whose first language is not English. There are schools with creative, flexible programs; the state Department of Education needs to do more to ensure that all schools know about these programs that work.
These challenges come against the backdrop of tight finances. The state superintendent doesn't have the power of the purse; he can't hire all the teachers who he thinks are needed by the schools, and he can't cure the dropout problem singlehandedly. But he can provide leadership to ensure that those who have key roles to play fully support public education.
Honig has provided that leadership. He understands the remaining problems better than he did four years ago. He has demonstrated uncommon energy in helping to get California schools moving; he deserves four more years to keep them moving.