While I doubt that any of my well-informed, progressive friends are likely to misunderstand either of the education-related propositions on the upcoming ballot, I just thought I’d lay out for you how woefully conceived they each are:
Prop 74—How Hard is it to Find Highly Qualified Teachers?
Prop 74 sets out to correct the rampant teacher surplus in California. Clearly we have an abundance of well-qualified teachers champing at the bit to get into high-paying teaching jobs who are being prevented from doing so by the many burnt-out curmudgeonly old teachers protected by the tenure system. Or at least, this is the logical premise for Prop 74. Prop 74 has two aims: delay the qualification for tenure, and reduce the protections of tenure to make it easier to fire poorly-performing teachers. Before we address the efficacy of either of those two aims, let us simply recognize that those poorly-performing teachers manage to keep their jobs because they are better than the alternative: long-term subs. No Child Left Behind made it a requirement that all teachers be “highly qualified,” that is hold credentials in their subject area. Therefore, if you fire that high-school geometry teacher who does nothing but hand out worksheets, you have to find someone else with a BA in Math, who has undergone two years of graduate training in education, at a personal cost of approximately $30,000 who can be tempted to take a position at a starting salary of $35,000 to take his place. If you can't find such a sap, your school risks losing its federal funding. So even if 74 passes, most schools will still be unable to fire the worst teachers.
But if it passes, it will also extend the length of time it takes to get tenure from two years to five years. We already lose half of our teachers during their first five years to higher paying jobs with better working conditions. Removing the safeguard and prestige of tenure during that time will only increase teacher attrition. Teacher attrition already comes at a steep price, since we must train two teachers for every one we need to replace. Those costs will only increase.
Something that no one has mentioned is that this will also weaken teachers' unions (something I don’t think Governor Schwarzenegger finds entirely unpalatable). Tenure is pretty much the only thing you have as a teacher that allows you to ask for what you need from administrators without fearing for your job. California teachers teach double the national average number of children with half the prep time, oftentimes in poor conditions. When teachers ask for fewer children or more prep time or supplies, they have to do it as a union. Low-income schools have a higher turnover rate and a larger proportion of younger teachers, who will both be forced to remain relatively silent in order to protect their jobs. So the low-income schools where we need teachers to advocate most for the conditions necessary to learn will lose bargaining power as well as remain unable to fire the tenured teachers who are holding out to collect their retirement checks.
Prop 76--Who Needs Paper Anyway?
In reading the Pro/Con text of the voter information ballot I thought, “Surely no one can have actually drafted a bill that would cut education funding by $4 billion. That must be the crazy progressive interpretation.” But no, there it is on page 28 of the legislative analysis (http://www.ss.ca.gov/elections/bp_nov05/voter_info_pdf/entire76.pdf), “…the net impact of Proposition 98 changes and related changes in the measure would be to lower the minimum guarantee for K-14 education.” Maybe there are people out there who truly believe Californians are spending too much on education, that teachers are overpaid, and that schools are overly luxurious. I haven’t met these people. Granted, with a revolution in education policy, we could probably have a system that produced better results for less cost (like switching from an SUV to a hybrid), but with our current lumbering bureaucracy, cutting education funding is likely to have fairly significant long-term effects on crime, cost of public services, and economic growth. Proposition 98, which this proposition would overturn, was a landmark in progressive education funding because it sought to guarantee all children in California equal funding for education. It has not been %100 percent successful obviously, but it is the only major piece of legislation fighting the impact of Prop. 13. Since this proposition is trailing in the polls with at least 60% against, I'm not too concerned, but I am impressed at Governor Schwarzenegger's willingness to take candy from babies--or in this case, paper, books, and an education.