The numbers associated with public education in California are truly immense.
Nearly 10 million students, the vast majority of them children, attend kindergartens, elementary schools, high schools and colleges supported by upwards of $100 billion from taxpayers each year.
The bottom line rationale is producing new generations of Californians who are creative, productive and civic-minded.
Logically, therefore, the politicians and officials who oversee education at all levels, and the voters standing behind them, should always put the well-being of students first.
Were it only so.
The supposed adults in the educational arena more often act like children in a kindergarten sandbox, squabbling over personal and political matters as they ignore what’s best for student achievement.
The list of such relatively trivial conflicts is endless, but to its credit, the California Legislature this year finally managed to do the right thing on two issues that are important to educational success.
The passage of Senate Bills 328 and 1406 were minor miracles, since both had been stalled and both faced powerful opposition from teacher unions.
SB 328, carried by Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from La Canada Flintridge, requires, with few exceptions, middle and high schools to begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
SB 1406 by Sen. Jerry Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, extends by three years a pilot program that has allowed 15 community colleges to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees to students in a few restricted fields.
It’s taken years for advocates of the 8:30 start time to break through opposition, even though medical authorities have long blamed early classes for depriving adolescents of much-needed sleep.
Local school officials didn’t like the state mandating an 8:30 start and it also was opposed by teacher unions and some parents as being disruptive of their schedules. In other words, they placed their convenience above what was clearly best for students.
“Nobody, not even the bill’s few opponents, disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence that our teens are not getting enough sleep, and that the primary cause is high schools and middle schools that start too early for their health needs,” said Joy Wake, one of the activists who pushed the bill. “Our kids need SB 328 because, despite the education communities’ acknowledgment of the dangers, most have been unable or unwilling on their own to discontinue them.”
The change will take a few years to become effective, even if the bill is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown – which is not certain given his penchant for deferring to local school officials.
Brown also must sign SB 1406 if community colleges are to continue their experiment in four-year degree programs, which have just produced their first class of graduates.
Given the state’s shortage of college-educated workers and the overcrowding that the state’s colleges have experienced, bringing community colleges into the mix should be a no-brainer – especially in rural areas lacking ready access to four-year schools.
It’s not a new concept, having worked well in other states. But in California, the four-year schools have shunned what they consider to be competition and faculty unions have been sour on the idea.
The next step should be to end the program’s experimental nature because these short-term extensions make it difficult for the participating community colleges to recruit students for four-year commitments.
Making it easier for adolescents to learn and making it easier for those who seek four-year degrees to get them should be embraced by everyone. That both have been controversial tells us something about our priorities.