Inept and Radical Leadership Has Taken the Formerly Golden State to a New Low

California has long been known for its sun, surf, and mountains, not to mention its wine, women, and song. But of late, it has been the go-to state for bad news and is showing no sign of turning things around. At this time, we have the country’s highest gas prices, the highest number of welfare recipients (more than in Texas and New York combined), and a Sacramento-created energy shortage. Due to lax policies, crime is out of control. In 2021, the two cities in the country that were most affected by retail theft were Los Angeles and San Francisco. Also, violent crime is up 13% in the state since 2019. This is not a national phenomenon. In Florida, for example, it’s down 31.5%.

Then we have the schools. In California, the most recent Smarter Balanced test scores released in late October indicate that just 46.7% of students are meeting literacy standards, and a meager 34.6% are proficient in math. This standardized test is given to all students in grades 3–8 and grade 11. Also, the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that 30% of the state’s 8th-graders are proficient in reading and 23% are proficient in math.

Despite the abysmal test results on the Smarter Balanced test, the state’s Department of Education asserts that the 2022–23 statewide assessment shows student progress. While the proportion of students who met or exceeded grade-level standards on the state math test did rise slightly from 33.4% in 2021-22 to 34.6% in 2022-23, the fact remains that about two-thirds of California students are below grade level.

So what does the state plan to do about the sorry education results? As a way to increase proficiency in math, the state solons have cooked up a new framework that contends mathematics should be used to “both understand and impact the world.” It argues that math teachers should hold the political position that “mathematics plays a role in the power structures and privileges that exist within our society and can support action and positive change.”

Additionally, tracking students by ability, which has worked well for years, is out. Schools are now encouraged, but thankfully not required, to delay Algebra I until ninth grade – meaning that students would be unable to take Calculus as seniors without doubling up on math classes or taking extra classes during the summer.

Brian Conrad, a Stanford University professor taking issue with the new math framework, explains that the push for equity could backfire. “The experience of San Francisco, for example, shows that when you block eighth-grade Algebra one, which was done in the effort to help to improve the demographics and the high school success rates, in fact, it was a complete failure.”

Should you suffer from gender dysphoria – which the schools have done a masterful job of promulgating – Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bunch of bills that will ensure your distressed state will be honored. AB 5, the “Safe and Supportive Schools Act,” requires the implementation of new “LGBTQ cultural competency training” for teachers and school staff in California.

On a similar note, AB 223, the “Transgender Youth Privacy Act,” requires courts to seal any petition by minors to legally change their gender or sex identification in order to protect their privacy. Parent authorization is not needed to change the vital records of a minor.

In addition to the state screwing up kids, California cities have been stepping up and doing their share.

Los Angeles, where proficiency rates are 41.2% in English and 30.5% in math, devoted an entire week in October to celebrate “National Coming Out Day.” A “Week of Action Toolkit – Elementary,” sent from the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education, outlines suggested lesson plans for elementary students around LGBTQ+ topics. It’s important to note that every second spent on this type of sexual engineering tripe is time when students could be learning their ABCs and 123s, which L.A. students desperately need.

Trying to keep up with L.A.’s race to the bottom, an Oakland elementary school hosted an official school event — a “BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Playdate” on August 26. The racially segregated event was purportedly done to “build and promote positive affinity spaces for students and families of color.” But, looking at the big picture, the kids from the so-called Bright Side of the Bay are even worse off than those in L.A. In Oakland, 67% of students don’t meet the standards in reading, and 75% are below grade level in math.

Needless to say, the teachers unions have been no help in improving the academic lives of students. The Oakland Education Association, when it isn’t consumed with protecting incompetent teachers, goes far-left political. The union released a statement in late October condemning the “75 year long illegal military occupation of Palestine” and accusing the Israeli government of creating an “apartheid state” and using “genocidal rhetoric and policies” against Palestinians. 

In Fresno, recent contract negotiations saw the teachers union demand that high school parking lots be opened as campsites for homeless families. The union acknowledges the move would require “paid security” at a cost of at least $500,000, one of many expensive proposals union president Manuel Bonilla is pursuing in an attempt to address what he calls “societal things.” To be sure, the union is not interested in any “educational things.” 

While the “lack of education funding” is always said to be the problem with illiterate and innumerate students, the Public Policy Institute of California reports that school spending per pupil is now roughly 65 percent higher than a decade ago in the Golden State. In 2021, the state allotted $22,684 per student compared to $14,245 in 2012–13. This amount doesn’t include federal monies, which brings the total to almost $24,000. So, a class of 25 students costs the taxpayers about $600,000. The only thing all that cash will improve is teachers’ salaries, as their unions have more fodder when asking for a raise when contract time rolls around.

In an attempt to get higher quality teachers, the state credentialing commission is talking about revamping the ridiculously easy California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST). But will the test become more rigorous?

Doubtfully. There is no indication that the state will go in that direction. In an equity-driven statement, John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates proclaimed, “CBEST is a barrier for educators of color,” and thinks the test should be eliminated. Christopher Davis, a member of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, agrees, asserting that standardized testing causes “disproportionate harm to people of color.”

There is some good news, however. Homeschooling in California has increased by 78% between 2017 and 2022, according to a recent analysis from The Washington Post. Also, the California Teachers Association is losing members. Mike Antonucci writes that internal union documents reveal that “in 2019 there were only 18,000 local public education employees who were eligible for CTA membership but did not join. As of the end of September 2023, the number of non-members had ballooned to almost 36,000.”

That’s it. Pretty thin gruel on the plus side. In the 60 years since the iconic song “California Dreaming” was written, the state has turned into a nightmare. If you live in another state, a general rule of thumb should be, if action is needed, do the opposite of whatever California is doing.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.


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About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Photo: RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA - MAY 17: West Contra Costa Unified School District literacy coach Margaret Goldberg reads from the book "From the stars in the sky to the fish in the sea" to students at Nystrom Elementary School on May 17, 2022 in Richmond, California. California State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond celebrated the donation of thousands of LGBTQ+ books from Gender Nation to 234 elementary schools in nine California districts. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)