Don't blame just the teachers' unions.
Yes, it's tempting. If the big teachers' unions had signed onto California's application for federal "Race to the Top" funds, the state might have received an extra $700 million from the federal government. That's not a huge amount -- less than 1 percent of education funding -- but in times like these, every bit helps. But the unions hate federal requirements that teacher evaluation be tied to the performance of students on tests. So the unions said no, hurting students in two ways: by opposing measures that would help teachers improve and by costing them money.
Forgive California students if they're not polite to their teachers today.
Still, the federal slap-to-the-face is a verdict that extends far beyond the unions. As Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times describes in this smart piece, the government says our data systems for tracking budget systems simply aren't up to par (it's right). California also isn't doing enough to improve its principals and is not aggressive enough in fixing -- and closing down -- failing schools.
The fact that the state couldn't come together and tackle these issues -- even with hundreds of millions of federal dollars on the table -- is an indictment not only of union leadership, but of school district administrators, elected officials, parents, teachers and Californians.
And it's not going to get better soon. The widespread attacks on the LA Times (for posting data on teachers) and on the federal government (for pushing the state to get about its business) is really scapegoating -- and reveals a deep denial throughout the education establishment, and the public at large, about just how much of an outlier California's school system is. When a state is failing at education to the degree California is, a state is failing. Period.