With California’s K-12 public education consistently being ranked below average among the rest of the states in recent years, many questions have come up about what contributes to this trend and how California children are faring as a result.
Numerous activist groups across the state have demanded that California’s Department of Education make drastic changes to the system. This includes organizations pushing for more charter schools, demanding the removal of certain controversial sex-ed curricula, and stressing the need to give parents more flexibility in their right to choose where their child goes to school.
According to Education Week, a national magazine that rates the quality of education of each state, California received a C on its state report for 2018. The state ranked 49th in conditions that help children succeed, 32nd in school finance, and 22nd in achievement.
In a statement made to The Mercury News, Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Dave Welch stated, “California has refused to take meaningful action to address the education issues facing our state, so it was unsurprising to see California’s poor grade remain the same year over year.”
Welch financed a lawsuit against the state of California in 2017, Vergara v. California, challenging California’s teacher protection laws, which ultimately failed. The lawsuit maintained that tenure and layoff laws harm poor children and those needing high-quality teachers.
To highlight the struggle that many face in California, The Epoch Times spoke with Christina Laster, an education advocate who represents Parent Union, an organization that is dedicated to assisting parents and making sure they have all the tools necessary to ensure their children are receiving a proper education in a healthy learning environment.
Laster explained that her organization educates parents with weekly workshops in both English and Spanish. In these workshops, the parents are informed about their children’s school curriculum and helps them make informed decisions about alternative options to standard public education, including charter, online, and public schools.
Laster, who serves as the President of the Inland Empire branch of Parent Union, worked in public education for 13 years for the San Diego Unified School District. She eventually left after filing a lawsuit against the district for unnecessary discipline towards her son, who at the time was in first grade.
“The teacher began to use my son as an example for class discipline, which eventually broke him down. When I demanded that he be removed from the class, the school refused,” she said.
The teacher’s union did not allow her to speak with the teacher, and Laster eventually had to hire an attorney. Eventually, she was able to have her son removed from the class, but only after a long and protracted lawsuit.
For Laster’s clients, the situation hasn’t been easier. “The State believes that they have monopoly control over children. The school districts monopolize on community stakeholders and only work with parents that bend down to what they want.”
Laster sees her role as shedding light on the situation to parents who are unaware of their children’s learning environment.
“A lot of parents don’t realize that their student is suffering until about 3rd or 4th grade,” she adds. “They trust the school without question and often don’t understand the curriculum, food being provided, or who their children are interacting with on a daily basis.”
Laster further added that parents realize the problem when they see their children aren’t performing as well in reading and arithmetic as they were when they were the same age.
In a Cal Matters education analysis, the report noted that “less than 40 percent of the state’s students are passing the math test that would indicate whether they’re on track for [21st century] careers. Just under half are passing in English, a number that is up by a single percentage point over the past two years.”
The report further explained that despite a state-funded formula that puts a considerable amount of money towards educating disadvantaged students, both blacks and Latinos continue to underperform in comparison to their Asian counterparts. Furthermore, only one in five black students passed the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress last year.
The low performing test scores of students statewide is a concern for Laster. She says that while there are a number of fantastic charter schools as alternatives to the standard public schools, there are just too few of them to provide for the state’s large student population. “I would like to see expansion of charters to give public schools competition, which would improve all schools over time,” she added.
When asked as to whether there were other states that California should follow as a model, Laster responded by saying, “California is the trendsetter for education nationally. I have friends in Wisconsin that are seeing their schools beginning to adopt California’s failing model.”
The crux of the issue all comes down to the California Department of Education and the school districts, Laster added.
“The districts in the state want monopoly over education and use top-down approach, not parent guided approach. What we find when the state uses a top-down approach is that both unintended and intended consequences trickle down and parents’ voices are not heard.” Laster added that the state and the school districts unwillingness to budge is not reflective of a democratic society. “They benefit the few, not the many and are rejecting what parents have to say.”
There has been some promising news in California’s student performances, however. According to Edsource.com, California’s 8th-grade reading has slightly improved over the past decade, jumping from 10 points below the national average in 2007 to 3 points below in 2018.
While California has shown some minor improvements on its test scores in this past year there are clear hurdles to the state’s overall improvement in the realm of education.
Despite these improvements, Laster remains steadfast in her belief that the state has a lot to work on before it can truly be able to say that it provides quality education for the children.
For her, it starts with giving parents a voice, “If it’s your child, it should be your choice as to where they go to school. Parents need to use their voices to speak up for what they want. If everyone does, there is power in a collective voice.”