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Joe Guzzardi: California’s education quality conundrum

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Posted: Friday, March 13, 2015 11:26 pm

A report released in January reiterated a familiar theme for California’s teachers, administrators and parents. Compiled by the nonprofit Education Week, “Quality Counts” gave California’s schools a terrible “D-”grade, which put it in 42nd place nationwide as measured by key performance standards including K-12 academic achievement, early education participation and funding.

“Quality Counts” is the latest in a seemingly endless series of reports that place California at or near the bottom of U.S. school systems.

Only eight states did worse. None received an “A” grade. Massachusetts and New Jersey topped the list with “B.”

Among the report’s broader findings, many school-age children are growing up in poverty and in households where parents don’t speak fluent English. California ranked next to last in at-home language proficiency and also 49th in household heads that are employed year-round and participate in the labor force full-time. Since the California Department of Finance projects that most of the state’s population growth over the next 30 years will be Hispanic and Asian, parental language challenges may remain.

California’s Local Control and Funding Formula is the latest attempt to solve the state’s persistent education dilemmas. In addition to emphasizing academic achievement as well as college and career readiness, certainly not a new wrinkle, the LCFF empowers local districts to have greater decision making authority in how they meet the states’ academic goals for all its students.

But an analysis of the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey found that 54 percent of principals view literacy skills as their most important objective while only 2 percent identify college or career advancement as a priority.

The survey, therefore, indicates that school administrators have set a lower bar for success than Sacramento’s Department of Education. The task is how to align teachers’ practical classroom issues with Sacramento’s loftier and possibly unachievable goals.

One ingredient in the quest for success that might help teachers and students alike is LCFF’s requirement for greater parental involvement. To date, few schools meaningfully involve parents in decision making. Only half of schools have staff specifically assigned to encourage parental participation. Most instead rely on traditional parent-teacher conferences, open houses or special language meetings to resolve individual issues.

Including parents in administrative decisions could be difficult to effectively manage. But promoting greater parental involvement in a child’s success is not hard, and is a proven ingredient in success. After the National Education Association conducted decade-long research, it learned that regardless of family income or ethnic background, parental encouragement leads to better attendance, higher grades, improved social skills, more participation in constructive afterschool activities and, most important, graduation and a post-secondary education.

The important role that parents play in their children’s success isn’t a ground-breaking discovery. The decisive thing is that persistent parental participation can overcome the burdens of poverty and language. But despite the NEA’s incontrovertible research, not enough parents are doing their part.

Joe Guzzardi is retired from the Lodi Unified School District. He is currently a Californians for Population Stabilization senior writing fellow. Contact him at joeguzzardi@ capsweb.org.

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