“For the eighth consecutive year, California's public school student performance has improved.”
So boasted Jack McConnell, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, as he released this week the 2010 results of the California Standards Tests.
While McConnell is correct in stating that performance has improved, it hardly is cause for celebration. Standardized test scores for California’s public school students are not as abysmal as they were eight years ago, but they remain quite poor.
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Indeed, barely half of California students, grades 2 to 11, scored at proficient or above on the 2010 English-Language Arts test. Less than half of students, grades 2 through 7, were proficient or better on the basic Mathematics test. Less than a third testing for Algebra or Geometry, grades 7 through 11, scored proficient.
The results were even worse when looking at the achievement gap between white students and their Latino and black classmates.
The white proficiency rate in English-Language Arts was 29 percentage points higher than that of Latinos and 30 percent higher than blacks. Similarly the white proficiency rate in Mathematics was 20 percentage points higher than Latinos and 27 percent higher than blacks.
The underachievement of California’s public school students will continue until there is a change in the education delivery system in the nation’s most populous state. So long as the public schools continue to enjoy a monopoly over 95 percent of the state’s school children, there will continue to be a disparity in the quality of education kids receive.
If a child is reared in an affluent neighborhood, chances are he or she will attend a very good public school with outstanding teachers. However, if that public school does not measure up to the expectations of the child’s parents, they very well will choose to enroll their child in a better-performing private or parochial school.
Unfortunately, many, if not most, California families lack the means to exercise that option. Their only hope now is for the marginal improvement in student performance that Superintendent McConnell boasted about today.
What is needed by the parents of underachieving students mired in failing public is a financial assist from their state government in the form of a school voucher that can be used for tuition at non-public schools.
It is the best way to the level the educational playing field between California’s haves – parents who send their kids to the state’s best schools – ands have nots – those whose kids are least proficient on the state’s standardized tests.