The Dismantling of Public Education in California
Victor M. Rodriguez Dominguez
Recently in Texas, the Texas Public Policy foundation, a conservative think tank, proposed a business model for reshaping the University of Texas, Austin. A response by the College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Executive team characterized the proposal as a “business-style, market-driven approach under which colleges and universities would treat students as customers, de-emphasize research that isn’t immediately lucrative, and evaluate individual faculty by the tuition revenue they generate. Advocates of these proposals see them as a necessary response to the rising cost of higher education, a cure for a system they suggest is inefficient and inaccessible.”
The model, which purports to improve “efficiency” is part of the national efforts of conservative organizations and individuals to infuse “market forces” inside higher education as a response to the “budget crisis” many states are facing. This model also is presented as an effort that will save money for the starving state governments while maintaining educational excellence.
This model, which is not new or novel, is based on the ideas of Frederick Taylor at the beginning of the 20th century. His model of “scientific management” was also predicated on the idea that efficiency would increase productivity. While it was being introduced in the industrial system this model was also influential as the system of higher education in the nation was being created. “Taylorism” promoted reducing tasks to its most minute components which made the labor process faster as workers specialized in smaller movements. It also introduced ways of measuring productivity that tended to reduce the wages paid to workers if certain production standards where not reached. It also transferred the control of the labor process to management taking away the autonomy that was enjoyed by the craftsmen. Workers became cogs in the industrial wheel.
There are a number of serious pedagogical issues that this model when applied to higher education will not address. First, the creativity and innovation which are part of academia are based on the relative autonomy that faculty enjoys. Not all research has to produce economic profit but research will enrich our knowledge and understanding.
Secondly, in states like New Mexico, Texas and California the challenges of a diverse student population are not even considered by proponents of this model. In these three states, according to the 2010 census, the majority of the K-12 enrollment is made up of students of Latino descent. The educational system created at the end of the 19th century while it has experienced important changes still has some of the basic features of the early system of schooling. It still has not incorporated the curriculum and pedagogy necessary to address a very different population than the one it was created to serve in the 1900s. In many ways, the educational system is focused more on “Americanizing” students than on educating students. In many ways the education of students is sacrificed so that students will assimilate quickly even at the expense of their knowledge of science, math etc. New research on learning shows that new knowledge is easier to be learned if connected with the knowledge that students bring to the classroom. For example, in terms of language acquisition, “intercomprehension” research shows that the best way of acquiring a language is by building on the language a student already knows. This was a major contribution of Paulo Freire, the founder of Liberation Pedagogy who created a curriculum to teach peasants how to read in Northeast Brazil. His concept of “contextualized education” built on the idea that the culture of people can be used as a foundation for new knowledge.
Fallacy of the Budget Crisis
Also, the business model is defended as a way of solving the “budget crisis” that states like California are facing. Unfortunately, the reality is that, at least in California there is no budget crisis, what exists is a revenue shortage created by policies implemented by the state government. According to the California Budget Project (2009) "Corporate income taxes have declined over time as a share of General Fund revenues and as a share of corporate profits. If corporations had
paid the same share of their profits in corporate taxes in 2006 as they did in 1981, corporate tax collections would have been $8.4 billion higher."
A more recent report by the CBP (April 2011), reported that because of corporate tax breaks and tax loopholes, personal income tax receipts have increased their share of General Fund revenues from 35.4 per cent in 1980-81 to 51.5 per cent in 2010-11. The burden of supporting government services, including education has been placed on individual tax payers. In addition, more corporate tax breaks approved in the September 2008 and February 2009 budget agreements will reduce by $2 billion a year the revenue from corporations in California. Another source of revenue that has declined are the high income earners ($200,000 a year) who paid no taxes. This high income “no tax” since 1997 has increased in California, from 579 to 2,431 individuals tax returns.
In terms of the financing of education the impact of proposition 13 is that contrary to most states, most of the financing of K-12 education is not local but by the state and federal funds. We are also reducing our financial investment in higher education, according to Mortenson (2009) in a study prepared for the California Faculty Association:
“In 1980 California appropriated $12.86 from state tax funds for the operations of higher education for every $1000 of state personal income. This ranked California’s investment effort 11th among the states. By FY2008 this had dropped $7.71 per $1000 of state personal income, a decline of 40.0%. California ranked 21st among the states by 2008.”
This decline in California’s investment in education is also reflected on our bottom standing with respect to most variables related to quality education: we are 44 in terms of spending per pupil, we are 46 with respect to education spending as a percentage of personal income, we are 50 in terms of students per teacher and 49 in terms of students per guidance counselor (CBP, 2010).
We also have one of the lowest college attendance rates in the nation, 55.8 per cent, states like Tennessee, Missouri, North Carolina have much higher rates despite having less wealthier populations (PPIC, 2009). At a time when it is projected that by 2025:
"California will have one million fewer college graduates than it needs in 2025-only 35 percent of working-age adults will have a college degree in an economy that would otherwise require 41 percent of workers to have a college degree." (Johnson and Sangupta, PPIC, 2009)
Most of the students who will not be able to have access to a quality education in California are Latinos. Given the achievement gap that exists between whites, Latinos and African Americans, many of these students will face challenges to succeed in college. The reasons are not entirely the fault of the individuals but of a system that is broken. “In California, 12% of math teachers, 18% of physical science teachers and 11% of life science teachers are considered out-of-field teachers” (California Report Card, 2010). The schools were African Americans and Latino are most likely to attend are segregated, under funded and the ones which have high rates of students per teacher, per guidance advisor etc. It is no wonder that the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report found that while in 2009, Latino and white students have increased their reading and math scores from previous years, the achievement gap remains the same. These are the reasons for the alarming fact that 50 per cent of Latinos do not graduate from high school (Gandara, 2009). Latinos have not had significant progress in college attainment in 30 years.
Patricia Gandara, education professor at UCLA and part of the Civil Rights Project, says that this is a crisis derived from failed social policies. While the popular media blames immigrants, the reality is that, as many empirical studies have demonstrated, immigrants tend to do better than native-born. Middle class immigrant students educated elsewhere do better than native born Latinos. Some studies argue that in fact Latino children, the more they spend in the educational system the more passive and less optimistic they become (Quiroz, 1997). Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, from the Harvard Immigration Project argues that his longitudinal data shows that assimilation has not been a positive process for Latinos.
Poverty and lack of resources, as Mortenson argues will provide additional challenges to California:
"On the demographic side the share of California's K-12 students approved for subsidized school lunches has increased from 35.2% in 1989 to 51.5% by 2007, and this share will increase much further and probably rapidly and indefinitely in future years. These students will have zero resources to pay for higher education when they reach college age. But they also represent a growing share of California's future workforce that must be higher educated for the most valuable work to be done in the Human Capital Economy." (Mortenson, CFA, 2009)
Given that 51% of K-12 are Latinos, the declining investment on education in California will have a disparate effect on Latinos. But in the end it will affect the progress of California in the next few decades when a significant proportion of the baby boomers will be retiring. Since programs like Social Security are supported by taxes paid by working people, is California and other states do not invest in the education of youth, the labor force will be made up of workers who will be less educated and who will pay less into the coffers of the system. In the end, today’s voters will pay the consequences in the future.