California spends 20% less on education per pupil than the national average, ranking 47th in education spending. Yet more students in California are taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams and more low income students are passing them than in most other states, according to a new report. And the numbers in California have been improving. In 2006, 28.6% of California seniors took one or more AP exams, 27% of whom were low income. Last year, 34% seniors took one or more AP exams, 35% of whom were low income. Nationally, only 21% of low income seniors took an AP test last year.
The first thing that should strike people from this data is that California schools are improving, not getting worse. We have set high expectations for our students and more of them are meeting these expectations. All the hoopla over deteriorating schools and incompetent teachers is a delusion, a bogeyman to justify privatization schemes, not a solution to a real problem. Sadly, these statistics are unlikely to get the Ed Deformers to back off.
Anti-taxation activists might look at this data and say, “We’re getting better results with less money. Our policies are working. Let’s continue to underfund schools.” When examined through a business lens, it appears California is getting greater productivity from its education workers than other states. However, a more honest way to parse this is that teachers, being committed to their students’ wellbeing, are allowing themselves to be squeezed for the sake of their students, working harder and longer despite wage and benefit cuts, furloughs, and overall compensation stagnation over the past three years.
Rather than being proud of this or encouraging it, we should be ashamed and fighting to reverse this trend. Not only is it abusive (or more abusive than in the past), it is not sustainable. More and more teachers are getting out of the profession and fewer are interested in becoming teachers because of the declining conditions and pay, while those who continue to teach are becoming burned out and will eventually max out their productivity or even resist and undermine the increasing demands.