If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, I am writing a three-part series about the two California gubernatorial candidates’ education platforms. After my lengthy post about Jerry Brown’s 12 point plan on education, today should be a little relief. Meg Whitman has a much shorter plan (not that that’s a positive or negative thing in itself). Whitman has seven education policy goals and they are each much more concise and to the point. So here goes:
Part 2: Meg Whitman
Whitman’s headline goal seems to be “directing more money to the classroom.” It’s the only goal she lists on the first of three pages about her education goals. To be more precise than her wording, Whitman is in favor of making a larger portion of education funding go to the classroom. Currently, she says 60% of funding in California goes to the classroom with 40% going to overhead and administration. Personally, this sounds mostly like political posturing more than anything. An article Joanne Jacobs mentioned a couple of days ago says, California actually spends much less per student in non-classroom spending (ie teacher salaries) than any other state. One would surmise that means that California is already doing a decent job cutting down administrative costs. I would also point out that this is not based on any studies showing that higher classroom funding means better performance. In fact, a number of countries spend much less than the US on the classroom and have better results.
Whitman’s second point seems to be very clever. She says she wants to give bonuses to high-performing teachers, administrators, and schools. She doesn’t come out and support direct performance pay, such as having pay scales based upon performance, but this amounts to the same thing. The question is, would this mean bad teachers get the same that they’re already making and good teachers get even more? That article about California teachers making the most money would suggest that’s unnecessary. Obviously, if we’re paying teachers so much here and they aren’t performing better than other places, then just paying teachers more doesn’t seem likely to raise performance. There need to be other means to attract high-quality educators.
She also wants to do away with the caps on charter schools. This is a very bold approach that could put her under fire. Personally, I see no reason that charter schools should be capped. We don’t cap “regular” public schools. Whitman calls the cap an “artificial bar” and I agree. However, lifting the ban needs to come with something that she doesn’t mention: stricter controls in authorization. There are some great charter schools in California, but there are lots of bad ones, too. The point of charters is to be able to breed new models that can be replicated. If a charter isn’t any good, the plug needs to be pulled. That should go for district schools, too, but that’s a separate issue. Actually, it’s her next issue. She wants to see a simple grading system for schools from A to F with school grades posted online. This sounds good in theory, but schools already have ratings online at http://www.greatschools.org, but that doesn’t seem to help. However, she thinks that schools receiving an F should allow students to automatically be able to transfer or for parents to convert it to a charter with a simple majority vote. While this is innovative, I wonder how well this would work. Often parents don’t even know how well their child’s school is performing. Perhaps if they are automatically notified if the school is failing and told what the options are, it could work to speed things along. A simple majority vote may not be so simple if most parents don’t even know what’s going on.
Meg Whitman’s sixth part of her plan is very specific: she wants to see California invest $1 billion in its higher education system. She says this money will be saved from welfare and other reforms and should be used to go toward education. I think spending money on schools is a good idea and of course, the UCs and Cal States have been hurting due to budget constraints, but I think Whitman’s vision on this issue is too limited. This is where her business mentality breaks down. Throwing money at problems does not necessarily solve them. The UC system has bigger problems than underfunding and she doesn’t say anything about them. She says nothing about the community colleges. In fact, Whitman points out how good the UCs are, but doesn’t say what should be done to make sure that the other two parts of the system become world-class institutions as well.
Finally, Whitman supports alternative pathways for math and science teachers. It’s been bandied about that the US in general suffers from a lack of qualified STEM teachers and Whitman points out that California is 43rd in science and 45th in math. I like the idea of specific alternative pathways if there are a few constraints (she doesn’t go into specifics). Her point is that California specifically has too few teachers in these areas that were educated in these disciplines. I can see a good argument for allowing those who have studied math or science in college to be given an alternative option for teaching those subjects. Teach For America has its biggest improvements over other teachers in math and science, which could be linked to a higher proportion of those teachers having studied those disciplines.
Tune in tomorrow for my comparison of the Whitman and Brown’s policies!