California schools are suffering from a dual crisis: one of quality and one of equality. Every day, hundreds of thousands of children go to school and do not have enough textbooks, a qualified teacher, a safe school environment, or access to a curriculum that prepares them for college and/or work. While California's overall system of education ranks near the bottom of all states, many problems are far worse for low-income students, students of color, and immigrant students learning English.
Over the past decade, efforts to improve California's school system have been guided by a simple formula based on standards, test scores, and so-called “accountability.” Unfortunately, this system does nothing to identify and fix these problems.
California's current system of “accountability” only uses test scores to blame students for not doing better, rather than providing them the necessary resources and opportunities to learn what is being tested. True accountability gathers information about children and their schools and uses it to help children learn better.
Who is impacted?
Schools with the highest numbers of Latino/a and African American students and students from families who are poor, have the biggest shortages of textbooks, the lowest numbers of qualified teachers, and attend the state's most overcrowded and run-down schools.
California's current accountability system falls short because the people it holds most responsible—students and teachers—have little control over learning opportunities that really matter. For example, teachers can't correct overcrowded schools, and students can't insist on being taught by teachers who are fully credentialed.
Just as students need opportunities to learn, teachers also need opportunities to teach: basic tools such as books, labs, libraries, clean facilities and healthy working conditions.
How did we get here?
For the past twenty-five years, California's schools have slid to the bottom
rank of all the states. Many people mark the start of this decline with
the passage of “Proposition 13,” the property tax measure
that limited funds to most schools and provided even less money to schools
that needed it most. California schools and policymakers have tried
to work with limited funds, piecemeal reforms, and educational fads.
These well-intentioned interventions (class size reduction, curriculum revisions,
test-based accountability, etc.) have been too little, too late, and loaded
with unintended consequences that often make the problems even worse.
While local mismanagement may be part of the problem, many issues cannot be solved locally. Solving local mismanagement problems requires that state officials hold districts accountable for making sure that educational resources get to the classrooms and desktops of students. It also requires intervention when local problems are detected. And yet, the state has no reliable way of monitoring or correcting these problems.
Why does this matter?
California has a separate and unequal system of education in which poor students, students of color, and English language learners do not have access to the same educational resources (teachers, textbooks and facilities) as their wealthier and White peers. Such fundamental “opportunities to learn” are critical for learning and for future educational success. These unfair learning conditions in K12 education contribute to inequalities in access to higher education and skilled occupations.
The cost of this education crisis is that today's students will be unprepared for productive citizenship, higher learning, and high-skilled work. California's challenge is to respond with bold and comprehensive action to solve this crisis.
For specific examples about the Crisis in California schools, please see the links on the left-hand colum of this page. Each link will take you to a pamphlet addressing one of the following areas: Learning Materials, Teacher Quality, Overcrowding, Facilities and the Unequal Treatment of English Learners. You may view the pamphlet on this site, or download and print a PDF version. These materials are also available in Spanish. For questions or comments on the Crisis materials, please write to JustSchools@gseis.ucla.edu .