If you, like me, are befuddled by the graphs and charts associated with the Stanford 9 exam, we can at least be assured of one thing as we fumble through the numbers: Our kids are doing better in school.
That is indeed good news. And it’s the kind of news we haven’t had in quite some time.
Education in California has been in a prolonged slump, as parents and educators helplessly watched test scores plummet over the past quarter-century. Spending per-pupil dropped well below the national average; class sizes grew to unmanageable proportions; and facilities rapidly fell into disrepair.
To make matters worse, school districts across the state, still reeling from the effects of 1978’s landmark Proposition 13 tax cut, suffered even more as we were slammed by the recession of the early ’90s. If our educational system wasn’t in shambles, it was darn close.
Perhaps it was the rapid ascent of California’s high-tech community, maybe legislators finally started listening to their constituents, or possibly it came down to the fact that we were just plain tired of seeing kindergarten and first-grade classrooms packed with 34 or 35 kids.
The business community certainly wearied of interviewing poorly educated and ill-prepared young adults who wanted to enter the work force. Businesses began clamoring for a better educational system once they figured out what a mess it really was. More importantly, these businesspeople realized that it was going to take money , a lot of money , to fix the problem.
Even the most conservative businesspeople realized that schools were not going to fix themselves. Perhaps a voucher system , a conservative benchmark for magically curing our educational system’s ills , lies in our future, but conservatives woke up just in time to realize our schools needed a lot of money, and quickly.
Fortunately, liberals also came to grips with the fact that merely throwing money at an entity as massive as the California public school system wasn’t a cure-all. They grudgingly agreed stringent academic standards were necessary to gauge students’ progress and that teachers and administrators had to be held accountable for students’ achievements and failures.
Those seeds that finally took root in the mid-90s are bearing fruit, if I may be so clich & #233;d. I’m convinced these positive test scores are just the beginning. All the shouting and lobbying for such things as class-size reduction, the emphasis on teacher training and after-school remedial programs is paying off.
We’re not out of the woods yet though. Stanford 9 test scores among middle school and high school students lagged. But then, many of those students sat in classrooms with 32 or 33 other kids. I know three of my four kids did.
But the foundation is being poured. And it appears everyone has a larger stake in improving test scores.
What should not be overlooked here is the fact that a lot of money is linked to performance on the Stanford 9. Hundreds of millions of dollars are tied to incentives based on test scores.
High-performing students can win scholarships; everyone at a school site, from the principal to the janitor, can reap bonuses of up to $25,000.
If bonuses and incentives are what it takes, so be it. Such business philosophies are quickly moving from the corporate boardroom to city halls and school campuses across the country.
The bottom line is, our children are finally starting to receive a better education in the public school system. Just read the Stanford 9 test scores , if you can.
Bell is the managing editor of the San Diego Business Journal.