Now 43rd in per-student spending

California 30th in Ed Week's state rankings

Praised for its high academic standards and accountability measures, dinged for its low scores on the national standardized tests, low high school graduation rates, and disadvantages of high rates of poverty and non-English speaking households, California fell squarely in a crowded, mediocre middle – 30th among the states, in this year’s annual ratings by Education Week’s Quality Counts. It earned a C grade: 76.2. The perennially top-ranked states are Maryland (tops with B+, 87),  New York (84.7) and Massachusetts (82.6). Twenty states were between California and 10th West Virginia at 79.9.

The publication’s per-pupil spending ranking is the figure most commonly cited in California’s debate over school spending, because it’s adjusted for regional costs. This year, California ranked 43rd among the states and Washington, D.C.; last year it was 46th.   The $8,852 spent per pupil in 2008 – before the full impact of the recession hit California’s schools – was $2,371 below the national average of $11, 223. It will probably be headed lower once 2009 and 2010 figures are out. California is  squeezed between #42 Washington, just ahead of Arizona, and a freefall behind top-spending, low-cost Wyoming’s adjusted figure of $17,114.

California spends 3.5 percent on K-12 schools as a percentage of state taxable resources, 10 percent below the national average; it ranks 36th.

Quality Counts uses 50 measures, equally weighted. Thirty-six states joined California with a C.

The measures fall into six categories:

Chance for Success: Grade C (national average C+), rank 42nd . This measurement looks at indicators from preschool to adulthood. California ranked 8th in the nation with 80 percent of  kids in kindergarten, 17th with 50 percent in preschool, and 24th with 54 percent of adults enrolled in post-secondary institutions or holding a degree.

At the same time,  California ranks last in the nation, with only 61 percent of parents fluent in English (national average is 80 percent).

State Achievement Indicators: Grade D- (national average D+), rank 46th.  This category is largely based on problematic comparisons of state scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in which California’s fourth and eighth graders have consistently ranked among the lowest in the nation. One problem is that NAEP doesn’t test algebra, which most California eighth graders take.

California does rank  8th in the percentage of high school students passing Advanced Placement tests (25 percent), and that percentage has increased impressively over the past decade.

Education Alignment Policies: Grade B- (national average C+), rank 14th. California does well because the state defines school readiness, has kindergarten standards aligned with first grade, and aligns high school career tech courses with industry expectations and post-secondary ed requirements.

School Finance: Grade C (national average C), rank 24th. Despite its low per-pupil spending, California ranked squarely in the middle overall. Its finance system, based on state taxes and not local revenues, is more equitably distributed than most states, for all its complexities and anomalies (high-spending districts in the Bay Area that are not dependent on state aid).

Standards, Assessments, Accountability: Grade A- (national average B), rank 17th. Aligned standards are California’s strength, and its accountability measures, sanctioning low-performing schools for low API scores, get a nod from Ed Week. However, its tests are multiple choice and not scaled from one grade to the next.

Twenty-seven states have benchmark assessments to guide teachers and students; California does not. Two dozen states have extended response questions that measure deeper levels of understanding than multiple choice questions; California is not one of them. (The Brown administration has made rethinking assessments a priority.)

Efforts to Improve Teaching: Grade C (national average C), rank 20th. This one mystifies, since California has scaled back teacher training dramatically and eliminated state incentives for teachers and principals to work in low-performing schools (some districts offer incentives), and unlike 32 states, has no internship program for aspiring principals. It has a high student-teacher ratio and no requirements for professional development for teachers. Unlike 15 other states, it does not require annual evaluations of teachers; 13 states tie evaluations to student achievement, California does not.

California does pay its teachers as much as comparable professions (I’ve seen conflicting data). The average teacher salary of $68,093 is second highest in the nation, next to New York, according to the National Education Association.

Impact of the recession

This year, Ed Week examined how states responded to the recession with changes in policies.

California is one of 35 states that have cut spending for K-12. It is also one of :

  • 21 states that  have allowed greater flexibility to districts over spending decisions;
  • 10 states that allowed a short school year or shorter school day or week;
  • 11 states that loosened regulations on class size.

But other states have acted where California has not. It is not one of:

  • 15 states that have changed tenure rules in response to the economy or other factors;
  • 22 states that have  changed pension benefits or funding.

It also is not the one state (Arizona) that changed layoff criteria. California is one of only 11 states that require teacher layoffs based on seniority.

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  1. These ratings are problematic at best. “Education Alignment Policies” show little correlation to student success. “Standards, Assessments, and Accountability” is one of the reasons ourschools are in such a terrible place right now. “Chance for success” is down-right racist. California gets ranked lower because we have a large immigrant population and high levels of poverty? This report card is as useless as most report cards students get themselves.

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  2. I’ve wondered if it would be easier for us Californians to get consensus on spending money on english immersion programs vs. the persistent rejection of spending money on pre-school.

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  3. Robert: The point of Chance for Success is that states with high populations of English learners must make extra efforts for literacy (hence, the parent measure). States that provide extra funding for poor kids and English learners get extra points. California has debated but has not instituted a weighted student funding formula.

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  4. As a point of clarification, your comment about the AP exam passing rates, should note that children not attending public schools are able and willing to take these test.  So, this pass rate isn’t, necessarily, a good indicator of public school outcomes, correct?

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  5. Hi John,

    I’m not sure how the question was posed but California does have internships for aspiring principals.  A program list can be found on the Commission on Teacher Credentialing website:

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  6. The “school finance” element always confusues people. CA badly underfunds its schools, but it doesn’t fund them in a relatively equitable manner. Get it?

    So CA hasn’t adjusted its “tenure” (there is no tenure in CA public schools now) and pension system to reflect the effects of the economy? These issues are interesting to consider.

    Schools in struggling communities are plagued by high turnover and high numbers of inexperienced teachers. This, it is suggested, creates an equity issue for students in these schools. The proposed solution (at least in some quarters)? Eliminate seniority rights in layoffs so that these schools have evn more of a chance of having an inexperienced (and cheaper) teacher. That this does nothing to deal with the equity issues of less experienced and less effective teachers in those schools  is beside the point. Eliminating seniority rights undermines unions, and if a group of kids traditionally ignored by society is hurt by that, so be it.

    The pension issue is part of the same package. Public employeee unions are one of the last bastions of the middle class in an economy that is rapidly taking on the shape of distorted hour-glass. A small bubble of extreme wealth at the top, a large bubble of working poor at the bottom, and a shrinking middle. Just a little more work and the “malefactors of great wealth” will have the kind of third world economic hierarchy they’ve yearned for.

    STRS retirees average a pension of around $35K per year and PERS retirees get even less. A tiny percentage get into the six figure range. Public employees did not tank the economy, bankers and the investment community did. It was an admittedly masterful job of re-messaging to turn the real task of reforming the banking/investment industry into scape-goating teachers and other public employees.

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  7. Crystal: I will check into the AP issue.

    Anne, thank you for the info. EdWeek charges for the detailed state data, so I couldn’t link to it. There was no explanation, only a “No” to the following two categories:

    Supervised internship for aspiring principals: No
    Induction or mentoring program for aspiring principals: No


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  8. We spend four times the amount per student adjusted for inflation since 1970. We have introduced computer technology to the class room at great expense. Test scores have remained flat. There are a lot more retired teachers but test scores have remained the same and by same I mean not good.

    In California we spend on average $8,800 per kid K-12. Given that the average class size is 28 that means $246,400 per classroom or per teacher. Let’s assume the teacher makes $90K with benefits for nine months of work. That leaves $156,400 per class for what? Where does that $156K go to? Sure there is some maintenance in that, some administration, general office expenses, union overhead, and district supervision. But if a roof needs to be replaced then we get a new bond to pay off on the property tax bill.  So nothing capital wise. Given that let’s say $56,400 for general overhead (which I think is ludicrous percentage of revenue), where does that $100K per classroom go to? That’s more than what we pay the teacher. Where?

    That’s some hectic PROFIT but to what pockets does the profit flow?

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  9. @jukin
    First off, look up special ed encroachment. (ppic has a couple good papers on that)
    Secondly, I’m sorry, but almost everything you said in the first paragraph is incorrect.

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