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California and the West

School Survey Lowers State's Ratings on Teaching, Funding

January 08, 1998|ELAINE WOO | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

California's public schools were dealt another harsh report card in a national survey released in Washington today, particularly in regard to the quality of teaching, adequacy of funding and other campus conditions.

In the second annual rating of the nation's public schools by Education Week, a Washington-based weekly, California's marks fell slightly, from B- to C+ in teacher quality and from D- to F in school climate and funding. The state scored a C+ in the quality of its academic standards and assessments after getting an incomplete last year.

The 270-page study, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, said that California's middling to failing performance can be traced in large part to a problem seen across the nation--struggling urban schools that have far more poor students and underqualified teachers than their counterparts in suburban and rural areas.

The report found that school achievement is far lower for the 40% of the nation's schoolchildren who attend urban schools than for those in non-urban ones, with the gap widening the longer students stay in those schools. Citing results from a federal test, the study said only 43% of urban fourth-graders nationally have basic reading skills and only 42% have basic math skills, while nearly two-thirds of students in non-urban schools have those skills.

California's students--particularly those in major cities--have fallen further behind than most, said Ronald A. Wolk, chairman of Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week. That is in large part because the state failed to invest enough money in its schools during the last two decades of tremendous enrollment growth and demographic upheaval, he said.

California's schools are "no longer the envy of the nation. It's really been a problem of neglect," Wolk said.

Compounding California's plight, the report said, is that the state's policymakers have resisted giving more special assistance to urban schools, despite the staggering challenges faced by big city districts such as those in Los Angeles, Oakland and Compton.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin disagreed with much of Education Week's assessment, which does not reflect recent high-profile California reforms, such as the sharp reduction of class sizes in early grades.

"We're not spiraling downward as much as this seems to suggest," Eastin said. "The whole idea that school climate has gone from a D- to F I do not agree [with]. We have more library books, more textbooks, more teachers, more money invested in facilities. We've begun to turn the corner on some of these issues."

Eastin did agree with the F given by the report for school funding, noting that California has fallen from fifth to about 35th in per-capita education spending over the past three decades.

"We're 50th in counselors, 50th in nurses, 50th in library book collections. Our teachers used to be the best paid. Now they're the 12th best paid," she said.

According to Education Week's analysis, while per-student school funding grew in most states between 1986 and 1996, spending per student in California decreased 1% after inflation adjustments, to $4,448. Nationally, per-student spending--also inflation-adjusted--grew 16% over the same period to $5,787.

"I think you're paying a high price for Proposition 13," said Wolk, referring to the ballot initiative approved by voters in 1978 that severely restricted the ability of schools to raise funds from local property taxes.

California does the worst job, along with Louisiana, in teaching poor urban students to read, the report said. It found that only 21% of impoverished students in California's cities attained minimal or basic proficiency on a federal reading assessment.

Outside the large metropolitan areas, California students performed somewhat better, with 30% of poor fourth-graders in non-urban districts showing at least basic reading skills. But that was still below the national average of 46% for such students.

Washington state fared best with poor urban youngsters, having 47% at the basic reading level. The national average was 23%.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Sliding Marks

California scored poorly in a state-by-state ranking of quality of teaching, adequacy of school funding and other criteria. The state was at the bottom of the list in terms of overall adequacy of funding, with spending per student and percentage of taxes spent on education among the lowest in the nation.

Student achievement (out of 100%--8th grade)

*--*

1992 1996 Science proficiency * 20% Math proficiency 16% 17%

*--*

****

*--*

Teacher quality 1992 1996 Standards and inc C+ assessments Quality of teaching B- C+ School climate D- F

*--*

****

Disadvantaged schools (out of 100%)

Below basic in reading--4th grade: 79%

Below basic in math--8th grade: 65%

****

Funding: the Top 5 States

*--*

Spending % of Overall per taxes for ranking student education 1. Vermont $6,764 5.4 2. N.J. $8,176 4.4 3. W.Va. $6,340 5.1 4. Maine $6,066 5.1 5. Pa. $6,708 4.3

*--*

****

*--*

Spending % of Overall per taxes for ranking student education 46. Montana $5,677 4.9 47. Wyoming $6,297 3.8 48. Colorado $5,123 3.5 49. Arkansas $3,728 3.9 50. California $4,448 3.0

*--*

* No data

Notes: Per-student spending for education is adjusted for regional cost differences (1996). Taxes for education figures are based on total taxable resources (1995).

Source: Education Week

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