There is good news and bad news on the education front.
The federal Department of Education has a National Assessment of Educational Progress program, and annually it produces the nation’s report card based on testing data.
The good news is that on the eighth-grade reading scores on the report card, the District of Columbia and Hawaii beat out California for last place.
The bad news is that California graded below such traditional educational powerhouses as Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.
I mention the worst news first because there is a tendency to “bury the lead” in bad news stories. After the eighth-grade awful-testing story, the news gets only slightly better, yet in no case do California students test up to the national average.
For example in fourth-grade reading, the numbers are just as bad , California readers tied with Nevada and New Mexico and ahead of only Mississippi and the District of Columbia!
Now to place the nation’s report card in perspective, California students did better on the math portion , better, but not good enough to be up to the nation’s average.
Our eighth-grade students missed the national state average of 278 with a grade of 269, placing them in the last half of the states , again! The fourth-graders were again below the national average, equal in math scores with Hawaii and Louisiana.
What happened to the vaunted California educational system? It is certainly not spending; we spend more than $12,000 per student per 180-day school year. We easily stand in the top half of states in educational expenditures, but we are in the bottom half in results.
Considering how great our 330,000 teachers are, I do not understand why we have this problem.
How do I know we have great teachers? They are tested also, and boy, are they good.
When Massachusetts first tested its teachers in 1998, 59 percent failed the basic test, and Massachusetts began a crash course in improving its schools of education. When Massachusetts examined its graduates, it discovered that only two Massachusetts schools had an 80 percent passing rate.
John Silber, then-president of Boston College, said: “Schools of education have dropped their standards to negligible, risible proportions and they give grade inflation and they graduate without competence, and everybody knows that the average student in a school of education is below average. That is a safe generalization. There are very few schools of education in which the average combined SAT score of their incoming freshman exceeds the national average. Most of them fall about 50 points below the national average.”
Back then, the results of the literacy test for incoming teachers , teachers have long opposed testing existing teachers , was written at the ninth-grade level, according to the Speaker of the Massachusetts House Thomas Finnernan.
I looked into the testing of prospective California teachers. There are many subject proficiency tests, but one, called the CBEST, is designed to test basic knowledge, the same literacy area that tripped up Massachusetts’ teachers because content tests had not been developed in 1998.
I decided to check the School of Education of National University, a private university that probably provides the largest number of teacher credentials in California. National University suffers from a reputation established many years ago, but in the past 10 years or so it has been an excellent university with great accreditation. (In the interest of full disclosure, I spent 6,000 classroom hours teaching computer science at National.)
How is this: The state tested 3,140 teachers at National University (in 2003-04), and 3,140 passed! Now, it is possible that there were no bad hair days that day, no spouses had recently filed for divorce, no children had run away or no dog had died.
The odds of 100 percent of 3,140 students passing anything more difficult than fogging a mirror tests my credulity, and probably yours as well.
San Diego State University students, on that same exam for the same year, also passed at a 100 percent rate , 510 of 510!
San Francisco State University reported a statistical 100 percent, but only 634 of 635 passed. Slacker!
UC Berkeley passed 100 percent , 631 out of 631; San Jose State , 540 out of 540; UCLA , 175 for 175; Santa Clara went 43 for 43; Pepperdine was 310 for 310; and Stanford, 57 for 57 (OK, that is believable ).
The aggregate score for the entire state is astonishing: 20,741 tested, 20,723 passed. That is still a statistical 100 percent with appropriate rounding and is reported on the official Web site as 100 percent. Of course, it’s possible that California teachers are simply brilliant when compared with Massachusetts’ teachers in 1998.
But here is the problem: in the nation’s report card, Massachusetts stands right at the top of student testing and California right at the bottom.
How is it possible that Massachusetts has such poor teachers that they personally fail a basic literacy exam, but their students score at the top of the scale, while California teachers score beautifully in a basic literacy exam, and their students score right at the bottom?
There is something very wrong here.
Allen Polk Hemphill is an Escondido resident.