Report: Much talk, little progress on California schools

May 03, 2012

Five years after a team of researchers at Stanford University issued a massive study of California's public schools, concluding that the system needed much more money but also major reforms, a followup report from the University of California says there's been a lot of talk but not much progress.

In fact, the new study says, school spending has dropped sharply, largely due to recession and state budget deficits, while politicians and educators discuss structural reforms but haven't been very successful in making them.

"Our initial optimism was unwarranted," says the introduction by Susanna Loeb, an education professor at Stanford and a director of UC Berkeley's Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) who was a major player in the Stanford study, which was called "Getting Down to Facts."

Loeb said that while the issues raised in the Stanford report have generated much discussion, "the past five years have seen only small improvements."

The new study was unveiled Thursday during a Sacramento conference marking the fifth anniversary of the Stanford report, which was embraced at the time by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Republican governor wanted it to become the centerpiece of what he called "the year of education." However, the state's economy tanked shortly thereafter, resulting in a series of cuts in state support of schools, and changes in how schools are governed and financed have been mostly topics of debate.

The state has installed a centralized computer system to track educational performance, as the PACE report notes, and both Schwarzenegger and Gov. Jerry Brown have pushed for elimination of many of the "categorical aids" that dictate how local school districts must spend state aid. Brown is also proposing a change in aid allocation to give more money to low-performing districts and schools, but he faces stiff opposition from districts that would lose money as a result.