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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 12/17/2010

The disaster California schools face, and a teacher's call to action

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and who now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This post appeared on his Teachers Magazine blog, Living in Dialogue.

By Anthony Cody
California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has a better understanding than most politicians of education issues, as we discovered last year when he sent some cogent advice to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. However, he can't seem to find a way to conjure $25 (or perhaps now $28) billion out of thin air, and is warning educators that the schools will suffer a 20-25 percent cut in funding next year.

California already is in 49th place in the nation in terms of student/teacher ratio, and is dead last in the ratio of students to school librarians. These cuts are likely to move us below Puerto Rico and Guam.

Los Angeles Unified, which already has a $142 million deficit THIS year, will lose another $200 million. State treasurer Bill Lockyer said, "Those who wanted less government, you're going to get your wish. In other communities that are willing to put something on the ballot to make up that difference, they're going to have a higher service level."

This will mean that wealthy communities are likely to scramble to come up with emergency funding to avoid the worst impacts, while impoverished communities will find their overburdened schools utterly destitute.

One creative proposal has come from Dr. Stephen Krashen, who offers this advice:

"California can save a lot of money by eliminating programs that aren't doing any good. A good place to start is the High School Exit Exam. Analyst Jo Ann Behm has estimated that the combined state and local costs of California's high school exit exam exceed $500 million per year.

"The most recent review of research on exit exams, done by researchers at the University of Texas, concluded that high school exit exams do not lead to more college attendance, increased student learning or higher employment. In fact, researchers have yet to discover any benefits of having a High School Exit Exam."

Unfortunately, although this is a huge expenditure, it is dwarfed by the size of the deficit.

How did we get here?

The sources of tax revenues in California have been greatly limited by Proposition 13, which put severe limits on increases in property taxes, and the collapse of the real estate bubble, which evaporated billions from the economy.

Many politicians are now insisting that government live within its means, while refusing to legislate any additional revenue sources. The result is dwindling revenues -- even as the recession places additional burdens on our social services.

This is going to be a very intense spring.

Last spring it was students who took the lead in organizing a response to budget cuts that were already coming down. Thousands marched in the streets last March 4. This year we are going to see the growth of that movement.

Some of us have begun organizing for a national conference and march in Washington, D.C., July 28 to 31. We have launched a new Facebook cause, Save Our Schools: March and National Call to Action, bringing together the efforts of many different groups that have agreed to collaborate on one major mobilization.

Teachers, students and family members are going to need to come together in very large numbers to reverse this trend. We cannot hold together as a society if we do not nurture our young, and we cannot do this if we kill funding for basic education at this level.

Cuts of this magnitude are absolutely unprecedented in our lifetimes. This will mean wholesale layoffs, classrooms overflowing, and slashed teacher pay and benefits. For this to occur at the same time our billionaires are blocking even a two percent increase in taxation, and bankers are enjoying record bonuses, is immoral and cannot be tolerated.

This brings to mind a quote I shared recently from 19th Century abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

I believe we are reaching those limits, and it is time for us to start resisting.


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By Valerie Strauss  | December 17, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Anthony Cody, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  anthony cody, budget deficit, california budget deficit, california schools, jerry brown, proposition 13  
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Aside from the Exit Exams (yep, like life ends if they don't pass!), another area that could use scrutiny is the absurd thought of language classes in primary and secondary schools. Talk about a waste of coins.

I'm not sure what prompted the idea of "NEEDING" a second language to get in college, but the idea is long forgotten by most students.

I had one year of German in high school. I joined the military and visited Germany one time! I managed to eat in every country I visited in my 27+ years without having a second language.

I lived in Greece for a year and Italy for more than 3 years. I picked up the language by asking the citizens of those countries how to say certain things. If students plan to work on global programs, then by all means take those courses...IN COLLEGE...

The idea that we need this language issue for "global trade" baffles me. Place a map of the U.S. on a table and using the legend, draw an 800 mile circle around Memphis, Tennesse (if you don't care about Memphis, then use Arlington, Virginia.) What is the one constant inside the circle? The main language is the same...American (not going to start a debate over "English".)

Find a map of Europe and draw a similar circle from Berlin. What is the constant? Language requirements are totally different. Maybe that's where the idea of speaking another language came from considering our system is a version of European schools.

Think of the wasted money we use across our nation on just this one single subject, and the probability of ever speaking another language after high school.

Posted by: educ8er | December 17, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Putting aside the merits of the issue, foreign language is required for most college entrance standards. It's by no means a given that California schools offer foreign language in K-8 -- it's not standard here in San Francisco schools.

I'm thinking that Gov.-elect Brown should give some thought to closing whole swaths of the freeway system, or some or all state parks. California's populace seems to fully believe it can keep Prop. 13 in place (including for corporations, which is absurd) while having all the services it wants too.

Posted by: CarolineSF | December 17, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Brother Cody is right. And in a much bigger sense than he may even realize. We are at one of history's crossroads. It's will be the banker's way or the people's way going forward and the struggle will be as intense as Frederick Douglass warned.

If the bankers win, we will be confined to society of draconian austerity measures and police presence. If we, the people, can overcome instead, great material pain still awaits. But we can share it as brothers and sisters share familial trials and tribulation. And we can survive it! And in time we can build anew, including a genuine public school system in the service of a genuinely democratic society.

But it's the bankers or the people now. Somebody's got to go.

Posted by: natturner | December 17, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Kudos Anthony - unfortunately if we are not careful "as goes California..."

Posted by: arlington101 | December 18, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

I used to live in California and it has never ceased to amaze me that the State of California cannot function within the unbelievably high state income taxes and sales taxes. When I left, I was paying 9.25% state income tax and 9.5% sales tax. They have both increased since then to 9.55% and 10.5% and the state is STILL short of money? Why are other states able to perform their basic functions with so much lower tax rates? I have my opinion. But, to me, raising taxes anymore will just cause more taxpayers to flee the state. Truthfully, one of the reasons my wife and I left was that we were paying $1000/month in state income taxes alone.

Posted by: norris_3845 | December 23, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

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