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California Reforms a Mixed Success, Study Finds

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The study was conducted by the California Tax Foundation, a research arm of the business-supported California Taxpayers' Association.

California's reform law, SB 813, authorized $3.2 billion in new money for public schools over a three-year period.

Researchers' Findings

On the basis of interviews with more than 100 educators in 24 representative school districts, researchers reported the following findings:

District participation has been low in a program providing state funds to boost starting teachers' salaries to between $18,000 and $19,000.

Nonparticipating districts were found generally to be small and rural, with declining enrollments and a high percentage of their teachers at the highest end of the salary schedule.

Lengthening the school day and year has improved the use of instructional time in many districts. But in only half the grade levels surveyed had instructional time been increased by more than five minutes daily, and most of the educators surveyed said they thought the change would result in "only minor effects on student performance."

Ineffective Changes

Changes in the law allowing the dismissal of probationary teachers without a formal hearing "are mostly ineffective," the California report concluded. "Few districts have adopted them, not one has used them, and the law is tied up in litigation."

Administrative costs--mainly for substitute teachers--associated with the "mentor" program, which gives exemplary teachers $4,000 stipends for extra service, are high now but could be cut in half if mentoring tasks could be scheduled so as not to conflict with the senior teacher's class time.

The research project was supported by a major grant from the Hewlett-Packard Corporation and by grants from the Union Oil Company of California Foundation, Occidental Petroleum Charitable Foundation, and Santa Fe International Corporation.

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