California’s missing information about public education

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Knowledge, it’s been said, is power. It’s especially true in politics, whose insiders joust constantly among themselves and with outsiders, including the media and the voting public, over access to information.

One of California’s more important arenas of info-war is public education.

We Californians spend at least $100 billion in taxpayer money each year on educating 6 million elementary and secondary students, and several million more in community colleges, state universities and the University of California.

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However, information on how well those millions of mostly young Californians are being educated is at best scattered among several nonintegrated data systems and at worst not available anywhere.

As a new state Senate report points out, “Currently, 38 out of the 50 states maintain a longitudinal data system that records academic, demographic, assessment-oriented and programmatic information that follows students from early education to postsecondary education and often into the workforce.”

California isn’t one of them.

The education establishment and its political allies are not eager to disturb the status quo of ignorance.

That reluctance has been obvious in efforts by the state Board of Education and state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson to fashion a supposed “accountability” system for K-12 education that’s a confusing mishmash of often trivial factors and minimizes the most important one, academic achievement.

Civil rights and education reform groups have pressed for more data to determine whether the state’s efforts to close the “achievement gap” that afflicts poor and English-learner students are working, or whether billions of extra dollars to help them are being squandered.

As the state Senate report on a longitudinal data system was being issued for a hearing on the issue last week, Children Now, one of those civil rights/education reform groups, was pressing Torlakson and the state board to “effectively monitor the outcomes of all students and determine if gaps in achievement are closing or not.”

But the education establishment, which also includes the California Teachers Association and Gov. Jerry Brown, has resisted such demands.
Why? Perhaps, it’s because a longitudinal system might reveal that his Local Control Funding Formula, which provides extra money to help low-achieving kids, isn’t working.

The Senate hearing was conducted by its Select Committee on Student Success, chaired by Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat. He’s carrying a bill to authorize a data collection system, but it’s stalled for the year — in part, at least, because of Brown’s reluctance to act.

However, Brown’s almost certain successor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, is on record as supporting a longitudinal system.

“This is profoundly important, and it gets lost because you don’t usually get celebrated for your IT upgrades,” Newsom said at a public forum in March.

We’ll see whether he’s willing to buck the education establishment, much of which is supporting his candidacy.

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