Standards Opinion

Annotating the News 5-2-14: From Grad Rates to Bilingual Ed

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — May 02, 2014 2 min read
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California Matches National High School Graduation Rates

National politicians and newsmakers for decades have portrayed California as a basket-case educationally, presuming that our high rates of immigrant and non-English speaking children must mean low test scores and high dropout rates. They may be surprised by the latest report from the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torklason, showing the state’s overall high school graduation rate matches the national rate. About 80% of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2010 will graduate this spring after four years of high school.

From the report, quoted from the Sacramento Bee: “As the most populous state and most diverse state, California needs to be a focus of national attention and work. With the highest poverty rate in the country, a median household income 20 percent higher than the nation’s, and a population that is 61 percent non-Anglo, California is key to reaching 90 percent graduation rate nationally, but also remains a laboratory of innovation in education reform.

Still, the challenges are daunting, as noted in this AP story. Though the achievement gap is shrinking, English Language Learners still lag, and there are a lot of them.

Californians Think Different

Public opinion polling in California shows that there seems to be a different public discourse here about K-12 education. As EdSource reports, the survey shows that compared with other Americans, Californians tend to be just as supportive of their local schools, and critical of their general school system. (If you’re interested in the comparison, the best national public opinion survey on education has been conducted by Gallup, sponsored by Phi Delta Kappa for years.)

In sharp contrast, however, far more Californians are positive about the Common Core. That may be because the standards aren’t that different from existing California standards, which have long been among the most ambitious in the nation. Or it may be that people see ambitious standards as a key to college, as indicated by the fact that they’re many school districts are already integrating the standards into Advanced Placement classes.

The Liberals (Attempt to) Strike Back

California’s economy is recovering faster than expected, which means tax revenues are greater than expected. The state government budget is actually in surplus. Liberal and progressive groups who want a piece of that budget surplus staged demonstrations in Sacramento this week, challenging Gov. Jerry Brown’s intention to place it in a “rainy day fund.” (The money comes not just from income tax revenues, but also the state’s cap and trade system.) Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton makes a good case for Brown’s position, but EdSource’s John Fensterwald crunches the numbers and says the governor’s proposed rainy day rule wouldn’t kick in as often as people think.

Bilingual Education Hasn’t Gone Away

Though some may want to wish it away, the challenge of educating English Learners remains daunting in California. In 1998, the state’s voters enacted Proposition 227, which sharply restricted instruction in languages other than English, limiting it to a single year for most students. Yet educators, school districts, and the state’s education department remain committed to retaining bilingual education in at least some settings.

--By David Menefee-Libey

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