Wednesday, April 1, 2015

California's Educational Decline

Amidst the flood of statistics about education in the United States, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what’s really happening. Together with Mark Twain’s famous saying, the reader will note that the same data set can be manipulated to support hypotheses which are not only divergent, but contradictory. Scholar Heather MacDonald notes that

In the 1950s and ’60s, California led in educational achievement.

Whether measured by anecdotal evidence, or by any statistical metric, or by common sense, California’s school system has declined dramatically. One reason is that it is a statewide system, instead of one controlled by local cities and counties. But there are other causes at work here as well. Heather MacDonald writes:

California is at the bottom of the educational heap. Over a third of California eighth graders lack even the most rudimentary math skills; 28 percent are equally deficient in reading.

By contrast, states like Iowa have outperformed California by almost every metric. Iowa has experienced dramatic demographic shifts: increasing immigrant populations, including both legal and illegal immigrants; which translates into increasing numbers of students for whom English is not a native language, and in some cases not even a functional language. Iowa has also experienced an increase in African-American and Asian-American populations, as well as populations for whom Spanish is a native language.

Why does Iowa so starkly outperform California?

Some observers attribute California’s decline to demographic factors, but the Iowa example seems to undermine that line of argumentation.

In addition to being a state-wide system, another factor which may weaken California’s educational system is its choice of methodologies, textbooks, and operational ideologies. It has directed a significant portions of its resources, i.e. taxpayer dollars, into programs which do not correlate to academic achievement.

California’s intellectual self-destruction must be viewed in the context of its broader political and social decay. Given those factors, the deterioration of the California school system may have been inevitable.