March 05, 2004
View from Lodi, CA: Our Overwhelmed Public Schools
By Joe Guzzardi
California can never have a sound
educational system as long as our borders are open. No
school bond money can keep up with the numbers of
children who arrive in California each year.
That is the bottom line. We can
pretend that the root cause is
insufficient funds, poor teaching or lousy
We can form blue ribbon panels like
the Quality Education Commission to study California
schools. But in the end, it comes back to simply too
many kids with too many needs
coming to California too fast.
Consider as already spent the $12.3
billion generated by
Proposition 55. The $13.1 billion by
Proposition 47 in 2002—less than
two years ago! – is a distant memory.
In Los Angeles, Measure R—the
third bond measure in seven years for the
Los Angeles Unified School District—will provide
$3.87 billion for the construction of 50 new schools.
The open borders crisis
exacerbates the already horrendous condition of
California schools. Hardly a correct decision regarding
schools has been made in the last four decades.
On February 5th, PBS aired First
to Worst, a documentary that chronicles the dramatic
fall of California schools over the last generation from
first in the nation to at or near the bottom.
In one of the film’s dramatic
moments Jim Deasy, the superintendent of the
Santa Monica-Malibu School District is asked what
California parents would do if they could see the
functional schools in Michigan, Iowa or Connecticut.
Without a pause, Deasy says,
In the 1960s, California schools
were the envy of the nation. But according to the latest
National Assessment of Education Progress, an annual
evaluation of student achievement, California is
currently tied for last among the 50 states in
eighth-grade reading, and is 47th in fourth-grade
Everything about our schools is in
disrepair, according to First to Worst. Across
the state, thousands of schools don't have the necessary
resources for full class days, sports, special needs
students, guidance counselors or even textbooks.
In many cases, schools rely on
parent fund-raising and donations to help provide the
so-called extras. Naturally, students from lower income
families suffer the most.
First to Worst provides a
time-line of variables that shows how California schools
have become so dysfunctional:
Analysts are always promising that
improvements are just around the corner. With only a few
billion more we’re told, California’s schools can
recapture their prominence.
Sorry, that is not the view from
this corner. We can’t keep up—period.
Michael Kirst, professor of education, business
administration and political science
think the big picture is that California grows so
rapidly. If we were like Pennsylvania, for example,
where the population was steady or declining, we
wouldn’t be in this condition. The state of California
grew six million people between 1980 and 1990. Several
years our school enrollments went up by over 200,000 a
year. We grew four million people between 1990 and 2000.
So we’re always having 100,000 or more students to
accommodate, and the rapid growth often takes place in
areas that don’t have the financial wherewithal to build
schools rapidly to meet them.”
Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the