On June 14, 2018, the Speaker of the California Assembly, Anthony Rendon, congratulated the Legislature on its work to make California into a “Utopia.”
This choice of words raised eyebrows given our state’s sky-high taxes, widespread poverty, jarring homelessness and deteriorating infrastructure. But Speaker Rendon’s extraordinary claim was nowhere more at odds with reality than when it comes to our public school system.
California’s failure to provide poor and minority students a decent education is an embarrassment to the pretensions of our state’s “progressive” leaders. When I pointed out this basic fact at a recent Assembly Education Committee hearing — that poor students get a worse education here than anywhere in the country – the Speaker took swift and punitive (if petty) action. He reassigned me and my staff to the smallest office at the State Capitol, known as “the Dog House.” That I was speaking from personal experience, as a former high school teacher in the inner city, probably heightened the need for punishment.
Whether Speaker Rendon acknowledges it or not, California ranks 47th in fourth-grade math, 46th in fourth-grade reading and 46th in fourth-grade science. This is the tragic consequence of a failed education model where Sacramento politicians and bureaucrats assign kids to particular schools and dictate how those schools are run, without any accountability or concern for educational results. A large body of evidence suggests this is the opposite of what works: good education policy empowers local communities, districts and school leaders to run their schools as they see fit, while insisting on accountability for academic outcomes and giving parents choices about which school is best for their child.
California’s backwards approach to education explains why pouring over $30 billion more into the budget in recent years hasn’t improved test scores or helped close the achievement gap. And this was entirely predictable: back in 2006, a comprehensive study from Stanford University found that “more money in the current system is unlikely to dramatically improve student achievement to meet expectations unless accompanied by significant systemic reforms.” Having served on the Assembly Education Committee for over two years, I can report that the work of the committee is about special interests, not kids. There is no sense of urgency about our many failing schools — no interest in figuring out why other states do so much more for their kids with fewer resources.
To the contrary, the Legislature’s goal this year appears to be snuffing out the bright spots in our education system. Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, whose bill was the subject of the hearing that resulted in my office relocation, is seeking to ban Teach For America from California, even though TFA corps members get great results for their students and are the most diverse group of teachers in the state. A series of other bills seek to cripple charter schools, the sector of our public education system that gets the best results for our students at lowest cost, especially for our poor and minority students.
I urge California students, teachers, parents and other concerned citizens to come to the Capitol to oppose these bills, and to fight for educational opportunity. I’ll be joining you in that fight — no matter the size of my office.
Kevin Kiley is a member of the California State Assembly, representing the 6th district, and a Republican candidate for California’s 1st District seat in the State Senate.