California: Despite governor's declaration that 2008 is the 'year of education,' challenges in student learning persist, study says

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Oct 2 15:24:38 UTC 2008

Despite governor's declaration that 2008 is the 'year of education,'
challenges in student learning persist, study says
By Kimberly S. Wetzel
Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 10/01/2008 04:49:58 PM PDT

More than a year after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared 2008 the
"Year of Education," California still has one of the lowest per-child
funding rates in the country, and poor schools with students most in
need of top instructors typically have the least-experienced teachers
in classrooms. English Language Learners, who made up about a quarter
of the California student population in 2007, continue to perform
worst among all students on state-mandated tests.

Those challenges, coupled with state and federal achievement standards
that are confusing and difficult to meet, continue to plague
California, according to a study released today by the Policy Analysis
for California Education, a research center based at UC Berkeley, the
University of Southern California and Stanford University. "The
performance of California's students continues to lag behind students
in other states, and the achievement gaps that threaten to leave many
of the state's young people behind remain wide," said David Plank,
executive director for the Policy Analysis for California Education.
"The loss of momentum brought about by the failure of school reform in
2008 raises the stakes even higher."

The report, "Conditions of Education in California," outlines many
challenges California educators face, including the achievement gap;
how teachers affect student achievement; lifting low-achieving
schools; and California's funding structure for education, among other



things. The report also offers suggestions on how to address those challenges.

Although the achievement gap is a problem in most states, researchers
say it's more acute in California because the bulk of the state's more
than 6 million students are in those lower-achieving groups.

Of those low-performing students, 1.5 million are English Language
Learners who are more likely to attend a poor-performing school or are
not getting adequate help in learning English to pass standardized

"We introduce the notion here that there are a number of places along
the way where we could be working for more equality for students,"
said Patricia Gandara, professor of education at UCLA and one of the
study's authors. "It's not supposed to be just about who's doing the
best academically."

Gandara and the others said the state could work toward closing the
achievement gap and helping English learners by putting in place a
measurement system to track progress of such students and create a
more thorough accountability system that doesn't punish schools and
teachers "for failing to do things that they have neither the
resources nor the know-how to accomplish."

UC Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller notes in the study that state and
federal benchmarks for student achievement conflict more than
complement one another; the state system gives schools credit for
getting kids up from "below basic" to "basic," whereas the federal
accountability system under the No Child Left Behind Act does not.

That means schools are deemed failing or succeeding depending on
whether the state or federal government is analyzing them.

"It leads to this distorted affirmation of what progress we are
making," Fuller said.

Fuller suggests that more consistent benchmarks be set through a
stronger data system that tracks students over time.

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