Sooner or later, the focus on the new state budget will shift to Jerry Brown’s ideas for giving local school districts more control over their spending decisions, starting with his push to suspend classroom-size reduction rules.
The state’s class size reduction program was initiated by then Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, in an almost forgotten era of fiscal plenty when the state enjoyed a surplus. Under Brown’s proposal, districts would still be allowed to keep class sizes small in elementary grades if they chose to do so and could afford to pay for the extra costs. But the essential point is that they would be allowed to spend the substantial subsidies — over $1,000 per student — they had been receiving from the state for other purposes.
This will be denounced as a rollback of “the most significant education reform enacted in California,” as I heard it described by CTA officials at a press conference a few years back. But I hope this claim is met with the cynicism it deserves. The CTA doesn’t back reform — unless the reform requires the hiring of more dues-paying teachers, as classroom-size reduction did. And does classroom-size reduction help students? One would think so — more teacher face time per student. A study from Tennessee based on the state’s Project STAR program seemed to bear this out. But California’s experience has not borne this out:
California … went universal with its program – handing out money to any district in the state that capped classes at 20 in grades K-3. This had the unintended effect of creating a run on good teachers: the best teachers tended to flee to the suburbs, which were suddenly hiring and which offered better pay and working conditions. (Many also already had smaller classes, so they were given state money for doing nothing – simply a case of the rich getting richer.)
Harder-to-staff schools soon found themselves in desperate need of bodies at the front of their classrooms. Overnight, nearly 21,000 new teachers were needed state-wide. People were hired off the street and granted emergency credentials to teach. The percentage of uncertified teachers skyrocketed: in 1995, about 1 in 50 California teachers lacked full credentials, compared to 1 in 7 teachers four years later. Poor children were, predictably, much more likely than middle-class or affluent children to be taught by unqualified teachers.
It’s little wonder, then, that the successes of Project STAR were nowhere to be seen in California.
So once again, school “reform” in California hurt those in poor, largely minority communities. Will this be pointed out by defenders of classroom-size reduction?
Nah. It’s “reform” — we say it is, therefore it is.
Will this be pointed out by journos covering this issue? WIll they ever notice the complaints of Gloria Romero and other Latino Dems about the toll the CTA agenda takes on minorities?
Nah. Why break with years of history?