Why California Needs Top-to-Bottom Education Reform

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Seven of every 10 students enrolled in a California community college will drop out without either obtaining a two-year degree or transferring to one of the state’s four-year universities. That was the disquieting finding of a report released this week by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento.

The report offers further evidence that California’s education system is broken. Yet, the state’s education establishment remains in denial.

Indeed, Terri Carbaugh, Vice Chancellor for Communications for California Community Colleges , told the Los Angeles Times, “we’re ahead of the report and have made substantial policy changes already.”

But will those putative changes reverse the drop out rate for the state’s 112 community colleges? Will 7 of 10 community college students succeed in obtaining degrees or transferring to four-year universities?

I think not.

We see the same kind of woeful performance with K-to-12 education in California, as evidenced by the results of the 2010 California Standards Tests. We also see the same kind of denial by the state education establishment.

Indeed, barely half of California students in grades 2 to 11 scored at proficient or above on the 2010 English-language arts test. Less than half of students in grades 2 through 7 were proficient or better on the basic mathematics test. Less than a third testing for algebra or geometry in grades 7 through 11 scored proficient.

So how did Jack O’Connell, the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, spin it? “For the eighth consecutive year,” he said, “California's public school student performance has improved.”

California taxpayers deserve more for the $5.8 billion they spend on the state’s community college system; more for the $43.8 billion they spend on K-12 education.

Nothing less than “the future of California is at stake,” said Nancy Shulock, Executive Director of Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy.

“Unlike other developing countries, with which California and other states have to compete, each generation is getting less educated and attaining fewer higher degrees,” she said. “The gaps are large and critical and when you look at the future face of California, they are the ones for whom we're not delivering much success.”

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