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Gov. Jerry Brown should study facts before throwing more money at California schools

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Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 12:00 am

A majority of new money from Proposition 30 should be given to school districts in poorer areas.

This is Gov. Jerry Brown's latest proposal for the recently voter-approved tax increase. He called it "a matter of equity and civil rights."

But is this really the best plan to help underperforming schools?

There are some studies that support a "more money" approach. One from Princeton asserts that for every $1,000 extra spent per pupil, math and reading scores are raised 3 to 4 percent. Another published in the Harvard Review of Economics and Statistics concluded that increasing teacher wages by 10 percent lowers dropout rates by 3 to 4 percent.

However, these are correlative studies, and this type of research can prove just about anything. For example, did you know that 87 percent of convicted murderers are right-handed? Obviously, one set of circumstances does not necessarily control the other.

Now let's look at the facts: Does more money for public schools actually improve graduation rates in economically deprived areas?

Camden, N.J. is a perfect example. This district spends around $23,500 per student. That's about 2 1/2 more than California spends at close to $9,375, and twice the national average of $11,824. The result? Camden High School has a graduation rate of less than 40 percent.

Well, perhaps they haven't spent enough. How about Washington, D.C.? They now allocate almost $30,000 per student. Do they fare any better? Not much. According to the Washington Post, the 2011 high school graduation rate was 58.6 percent — a drop of 20 percent from the previous year! If there is a correlation here, it is that recently increased school funding actually caused a DECREASE in graduation rates!

Now let's look at the other side of the coin. How about Alpine, Utah? They only spend $5,658 per student but have a graduation rate of 77.7 percent. Then there's Meridian, Idaho at $6,154, but 76 percent of students successfully finish high school.

Utah's average teacher salary is $42,335 while California's is $68,093. Our state's overall graduation rate is 74.4 percent while Utah's is 76 percent (so much for a correlation between teacher salaries and school success).

Then there are the charter schools. In most states, charter schools spend an average of $6,585 per student, as compared to an average of $5,000 more for their conventional counterparts. Graduation rates are equal to, if not better than, their regular public peers.

As for private institutions, most would agree that, on average, they have done a better job for less cost.

So, if money doesn't make the difference in school performance, then what does?

The primary factor is the socio-economic standing of a community. In deprived areas, this can influence the attitudes of parents and students, which are often negative or indifferent toward educational institutions. Many see no value for themselves in structured, state-run programs where they and generations of their families have failed.

Another is the massive influx of immigrants into this country, especially in our state. Students with language barriers are behind and cannot "catch up" with their native-born peers. While programs exist to help develop English skills, at the same time, California state-mandated graduation requirements make it very difficult for these young people to meet "one size fits all" completion standards.

Post-secondary parental education is the most consistent factor associated in schools and districts with the highest graduation rates. This makes sense, as these folks are scholastically successful, have usually found quality employment and have developed the skills and values necessary to help their own children succeed.

Throughout our country, politicians have thrown additional money at our public educational system for almost 60 years with little or no proportional measurable improvement.

Therefore, their ongoing "fix" can only beg the following question: Isn't it time our elected officials actually address the direct causes of school failure instead of supporting the same old simplistic solutions?

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Lawrence Steinberg posted at 10:12 am on Wed, May 8, 2013.

    Lawrence Steinberg Posts: 65

    LOL! I guess they did

  • Lawrence Steinberg posted at 9:00 am on Wed, May 8, 2013.

    Lawrence Steinberg Posts: 65

    So Quam, how do you incorporate bullet points into your post? Has the LNS re-enabled html?

  • Lawrence Steinberg posted at 8:00 am on Wed, May 8, 2013.

    Lawrence Steinberg Posts: 65

    California's education system is like an ICU patient with a gun shot wound to the chest, high blood pressure, herpes, diabetes, colon cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. Chronic underfunding is by no means the only thing wrong with it but its the thing that's going to kill it first.

    Of course, for folks like Steve Hansen, the death of public education isn't a problem, its a goal.

  • Quan Pham posted at 12:01 pm on Tue, Apr 30, 2013.

    qpham63 Posts: 31

    Steve, but that is what a pro big government liberal does; he/she supports more money expenditures under the assumption that more spending is better. Most of the time, it is like giving cash to crack addicts.
    There are a few issues that have influence the outcome of our public school system and it isn’t the amount of money spent.
    • We the tax payers must come to grip with the fact that not all kids are college material; some aren’t even high school graduate material. There need to be separate tracks for those who are academically inclined and those who are not. Those who are not should be learning a trade versus starting to learn a trade after high school, after turning 18. Parents, if you kids are having a tough time with long division in the 10th grade, perhaps it is time to consider trade school.
    • We as parents must realize that the government is the wrong entity to raise our children. We must get totally involved with their education and remain so until they have diploma in hand. Yes, that is 13 years of checking homework, 13 years of voluntary work at the school, 13 years of helping/being involved with/guiding your children pick their friends and tell them how they are to spend their free time. 13 years of actually babysitting your children not let the boob tube and recently YouTube babysit your children. Limit time on the PS3 and Xbox game consoles or better yet, tie it to timely homework completion and test scores.
    • As parents point out to your children that life and what you get out of life boils down to the trillion of possibilities that is the results of a series of decision making and that good decision making skills in the long run will always yield better results than poor decision making skills. Be consistent, be relentless, be reasonable and be ready to be hated at times. You must decide to first be your children’s parents and then, if possible, be their friend as well but never the reverse.
    • We also need to look at education as a privilege and not a right. To be able to get into a school at a certain grade level, the student must test and prove that the student has the aptitude for that grade level. Social promotion must be abolished. Education as a right makes absolutely no sense. If it does, perhaps any one should have the right to drive. How crazy would that be? That would be like if you have interest, you should be allowed to drive a car. After a few years behind the wheel of a car, you should be allowed to go to a 10 ton truck or bus and a few years after that, how about a 20 ton tractor/trailer? It is crazy but we do that with schools and with social promotion. That is why we have fourth grader that does not know their alphabet. That interferes with the rest of the class rooms with kids with appropriate level of knowledge for their grade level.
    • There are also smart spending and wasteful spending. The public school system does not need to show a profit and has no competition. Higher salaries does not do it, more money per student does not do it so what does? Anyone can see that for the Public School system to be better, they need to have competition. Sure, there are private school but they have tuition cost that is prohibitive for most families out there who wants their kids in that system. The parents and other tax payers already paid into the public school system so it is “free” therefore public school offers a huge financial advantage if you can even call it completion between public and private. Now, even if there was a 50% voucher (50% of what is spent per student) would make the public school fight to keep the student within their walls.
    In regard to the “Another is the massive influx of immigrants into this country, especially in our state. Students with language barriers are behind and cannot "catch up" with their native-born peers. While programs exist to help develop English skills, at the same time, California state-mandated graduation requirements make it very difficult for these young people to meet "one size fits all" completion standards.” I can’t totally agree with this statement. I was an immigrant student myself and without the crutch that is 2nd language instruction and in school ESL classes, I manage to catch up quite well within 2 years. The fact around those who can’t seem to catch up is because they arrive without the proper background and aptitude for the school system, they are no different than those 4th graders who do not know their alphabets. The 2nd language instruction does nothing but hinders them and keep them from truly assimilating. As an immigrant student without oncampus ESL and 2nd language instruction. I have adjusted well. Seeing how “we” the immigrant from the mid 70s era has done versus the 80s and the current ongoing immigrant and how they aren’t coping as well tell me that the 2nd language instruction is that unnecessary crutch that keeps the legs from properly developing.
    I have come to the conclusion that California legislatures are insane because why else would you do the same thing over and over again and expect to get different results? It is time for real reform of our school system and not just throw more money at it. If not, we would eventually be like Camden NJ.

    We must make kids "earn" their achievements just like a school must earn its funding if we are to turn this thing around.


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