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Our View: Cut bureaucracy to fix schools

Posted: December 18, 2010 6:23 p.m.
Updated: December 19, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Today, The Signal wraps up its series “Report Card on SCV Education” with a gaze into a crystal ball, so to speak — a glimpse into the directions in which public education is heading in the Santa Clarita Valley and in the rest of California.

Helmed by Signal Assistant City Editor and veteran education writer Tammy Marashlian, this series has run every Sunday since Halloween, examining many major issues facing educators and education establishments.

It has covered statewide public-school funding issues dating from 1978’s Proposition 13; the impact of growing class sizes on the quality of education; negative effects on local school districts caused by unfunded mandates; changes in high school vocational education; “the gap” between high school-graduation expectations and college entrance-level expectations; demographic changes in Santa Clarita Valley public schools; the effects of development on local school districts; and today, a look at education trends and what they could mean in classrooms of the future.

If you missed any of this informative series, feel free to drop by The Signal offices at 24000 Creekside Road to pick up a back issue, or visit http://www.the-signal.com/section/36/article/37965/ on our website.

The series offers a number of reasons to be proud of our SCV public education system. If consistently high test scores, low dropout rates and high graduation rates don’t tell the story well enough, this series does: Despite an outdated state formula that ranks the valley as a rural community and delegates funding accordingly, our schools have dealt with state funding cuts as best they can, and they continue to excel.

Despite unfunded mandates for special-education students, we have a system so well run that parents with special-needs students move here to enroll their youngsters.

Local educators have developed quality vocational education programs and are working with College of the Canyons to develop academic programs that better prepare high school graduates to meet college-level expectations.

School tension over increasing numbers of minority students have actually been reduced by proactive programs that involve students themselves in teaching tolerance.

Despite these bright spots, we shudder at the magnitude of some of the problems facing educators today and in the future.

We see how the chasm continues to widen between services required by the federal government and the money available for carrying out those services. Even as that rift yawns, new and more costly treatments are developed for the population mandated for special care. And more and more of the cost falls on local, already cash-strapped school districts.

Even as we applaud local educators for seeking a solution to the issue of high school requirements failing to meet college-entrance expectations, we are puzzled how, in the age of standardized tests — designed to assure parents and society that students are learning the minimum they should in high school — graduates are falling more and more behind in basic college expectations.

How can a program designed to ensure minimum achievements at one educational level fail so miserably to meet minimum expectations on the next level up? Can the curriculum embraced nationally as the solution to failing American education itself be failing so miserably?

Perhaps the most daunting task facing public education was laid out in the first story in the series, which examined California’s school-funding dilemma.

While researchers shake their heads and say there’s no definitive evidence larger class sizes negatively affect students’ educations, common sense — and the students themselves — tell us otherwise.

Yet local school district officials say they’ve cut as much “fat” from their budgets as possible. It appears they can do little besides increasing class sizes as they look ahead to another two years, at least, of reduced budgets.

At 47th among the 50 states in per-pupil spending, California faces some tough choices in education spending, as it does in all other spending.

Last May, as Marashlian notes in the first in this series, parents, students, school districts and education organizations filed a lawsuit calling for a completely new way to fund education in California.

We believe that such a new funding structure is required, even as a state constitutional convention is required to get California back in the black.

But before a clamor is raised for more taxes, the structure of education funding itself must be revamped.

Currently, we have a California Department of Education and Offices of Education for each county in California. We have a state Office of Educational Research and Improvement, as well.

All of that comes on top of the actual school districts charged with doing the educating.

And then there’s the U.S. Department of Education and its many subsidiaries.

We’ve got news for all these bureaucrats: Education doesn’t take place in county offices, state offices or federal offices. It occurs in the classroom, and there’s where the dollars should be spent.

It’s time to wield an ax in the bureaucracies, not just the classrooms.

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