UCLA professor on new report showing low marks for California education

UCLA researchers released a new report today that indicates California is near the bottom of all states in measures of public school education. The report says one third of ninth graders fail to graduate high school on time. It also shows California is near the bottom in terms of the number of high school students who enroll in four year colleges right away. Shirley Jahad talked with an author of the study, UCLA Professor John Rogers. He heads the UCLA Institute for Democracy Education and Access.

John Rogers: One of the things that we found is that California's classrooms are more overcrowded than classrooms in any other state in the nation. We also found that California high school students have less access to counselors than every other state except one. As a consequence, California's graduation rates are fairly low compared to the rest of the nation.

Shirley Jahad: One of the major findings of your report – California ranking near the bottom of students who are going to go on to four year colleges. Tell us about that.

Rogers: California ranks very low for students that move on directly to four year colleges. It is true that many California students go to two year colleges and then transfer on to four year colleges. But even if you look at the rate at which students finally end up with a four year degree, California is far below the national average.

The low rate at which California students are moving on to college and getting their college degree is consequential both for California's economy, which requires college-educated workers, and it's consequential for students and parents who have very high aspirations.

We report on the fact that California high school students, by and large, expect to attain a college degree, and California's public school parent want their children to gain at least a college degree. Many California parents want their kids to get a graduate degree or professional degree, and this is true across every racial and ethnic group in California.

Jahad: So how long has the state failed to live up to these aspirations and expectations?

Rogers: California, when I went to public schools in the late '60s and '70s, was near the top of the national average. In 1978, Proposition 13 undercut California's educational funding system, and since then, we've fallen further and further behind other states.

Jahad: A lot of people might think California's education budget is pretty big, but you've found that California spends about 2,000 less per student.

Rogers: That's correct. Well California's budget is very big, but we're a huge state, so when you look at how much we spend for every student that we have, we end up spending 77 cents on the dollar of the national average, and we spend far less than the high expenditure states like New York, and New Jersey, and Maine. We spend 57 cents on the dollar of what New York spends.

Jahad: So given the tough budget climate and the massive cuts we're facing right now, do you make any recommendations in your report?

Rogers: One of the things that we point out is that no one wants a crisis, and clearly this crisis is going to have painful impacts on California students and educators. In the short term, there's not going to be more money, and we recognize that.

But we also see this moment as a time for everyone in California to fundamentally rethink where we are as a state in relationship to our educational system, and to begin the process of developing a new educational finance system and new educational accountability system that everyone can benefit from.