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Not much help

California needs school reform. Instead, we get still another study that tells us what we already know.

March 16, 2007

THIS IS HARDLY what California has been waiting for. After spending more than a year trying to find a definitive answer to how much it would cost to educate the state's children properly, and how the money should be spent, the state now has yet another white paper. This one is from the governor's Committee on Educational Excellence, and it says what pretty much everybody already knows: Spending at least 50% more for education would enable the schools to do a darn nice job.

The figure isn't as outlandish as it might seem. New York and New Jersey spend about that much more per student. Their schools certainly have more resources than California's, but their achievement levels are less than stellar (though California's are worse). The most valuable statement in the report is this: Better funding will create better schools -- but only if the state scraps its bizarre financing system.

The task force was short on original observations about the confusion that passes for California schools governance. Given plenty of material to work with, however, it neatly pinned the worst of the offenders.

School reform is done piecemeal, with little planning and too much politics. The state's method of parceling out money to school districts is impossibly arcane, based on 30-year-old demographics and resulting in schools with similar costs and populations receiving wildly varying sums -- and often with affluent areas receiving the most money.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 22 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Education: An editorial Friday said the governor's Committee on Educational Excellence issued a report faulting how education is financed in California. The report was coordinated by Stanford University for the committee and legislative leaders.

The state pays for most of its teachers' training yet settles for teachers' colleges that are out of sync with the skills today's educators need. Teacher pay is based on factors (such as advanced degrees and years of experience) that have relatively little to do with how effective the teachers are in the classroom. The state awards teachers tenure too quickly, then makes it nearly impossible to fire bad ones. Too much funding is tied up in designated programs like arts or antismoking instead of letting schools do what makes the most sense for their students. And California's massive weight of education regulations chain practically any educational inventiveness to the ground.

How depressingly old these complaints are and how intransigent the interests keeping things this way: politicians, unions, bureaucracy and the people who now receive a disproportionate share of the largesse and don't want to give it up. The task force spent too much time on the symptoms and too little on the obstacles to change. Sadly, this makes its report like so many that have been ballyhooed before -- and then tidily shelved until the next one is issued.

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