Saturday, February 24 , 2018, 10:35 am | Fair 56º


Scott Harris: Public Education In California is Failing

The days of funding a system that promotes failing students and protects failing teachers must end.

Public education in California is remarkably expensive and a spectacular failure.

For years, public education was a source of pride in California and the envy of the other 49 states. However, decades of mismanagement and poor decisions have dropped us to the bottom of the national list, barely able to beat out such educational juggernauts as Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Article Image
Scott Harris
A quarter of all California high school students drop out. That number increases to one in three in the massive Los Angeles Unified School District, with some high schools showing a more than 50 percent dropout rate. For those students who do make it to their senior year, more than 10 percent are unable to pass the California High School Exit Exam. This ridiculously easy graduation standard requires students to get 55 percent of eighth-grade-level math questions correct and 60 percent of the 10th-grade-level English questions right.

At least the California Teachers Association, which has everything to do with teachers and very little to do with education, can take comfort in knowing that through their efforts, our teachers are the highest paid in the country.

With plans to spend $68 billion this year, K-12 public education is the largest and most important business in the state of California — and the business is failing. Each important measure is negative — literacy and graduation rates are down, violence and dropout rates are up. The education business is responsible to their shareholders — and that’s us.

How’s this for a report card? We have more students than any state in the union and spend more money than any other state (as well as most countries), with the most notable expenditure being those top-tier teacher salaries. At one point, we had the best K-12 system in the country. Now? Our kids drop out at an alarming rate, students are routinely promoted to the next grade with the full knowledge of teachers and administration that they are not prepared, almost 50,000 high school seniors a year cannot pass an exit exam that is a joke and those who do graduate are rewarded with a diploma that the business community regards as almost valueless. The most powerful political force in the state, the California Teachers Association, refuses to allow teachers to be held accountable for their actions and results, and insists on their protection through tenure.

Those in the education industry tell us that the only answer is more funding. They ask (demand) for billions of additional dollars. They grow indignant if we ask what they plan to spend it on, but do promise us improvements in unmeasured results. They rail against the No Child Left Behind Act (which asks for accountability in reading and math), fight the California High School Exit Exam and consider tenure sacrosanct.

A system that promotes failing students and protects failing teachers is, by definition, failing. The days of funding without accountability and responsibility must end. Californians are having a tough time keeping jobs, buying homes, filling gas tanks and feeding families.

As we look at a deficit closing in on $20 billion, our K-12 system is the most expensive item in the state budget. California public education has become a sad commentary on our values, our state and our future. It is time for us to take back our schools, to demand that our children are educated and prepared to enter a job market where they compete with workers from around the world.

Here’s a simple true or false test for our California public educators:

» Education is more important than tenure.

» A high school diploma should represent 12th-grade-level abilities.

» The stigma of a lifetime without the ability to read and write is worse than the stigma of failing a grade.

» California taxpayers deserve accountability for our $68 billion.

» Good teachers should be rewarded; bad teachers should be fired.

The answer to all five is “true.” Let’s raise expectations, of students and teachers. Let’s reward both for succeeding. Let’s work together to once again make California public education a source of pride.

While $68 billion is a pretty compelling number, there is one even more important: 6.3 million. That is the number of students in the public education system who are trusting that we will educate them and prepare them for a successful future. Let’s not disappoint them any longer.

Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site,, or e-mail him at [email protected]

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >