State education czar Jack O’Connell (pictured) was in Santa
Barbara last Monday to talk about the California high school exit
exam, No Child Left Behind, and the ever-precarious funding of the
state’s public schools. O’Connell, who as a state senator authored
the exit exam legislation, maintained the additional instruction
given in preparation for the test benefited all students. Noting
that nearly 85 percent of seniors had passed both portions of the
exam so far, O’Connell estimated that close to 95 percent of this
year’s graduating class would pass the test. He was less forgiving
of No Child, which O’Connell faulted for employing an “arbitrary
status bar,” meaning 25 percent of a given school’s students must
be proficient or the school is considered failing. O’Connell
favored concentrating resources on schools that need intensive help
rather than adhere to a program that defined roughly half the
schools as failing. Asked whether California was spending enough on
K-12 education to maintain its status as an economic powerhouse,
O’Connell said, “No, we’re not — we need additional funding and
more efficient spending.” And while he credited Governor
Schwarzenegger for providing increased funding for the Healthy
Families program to increase children’s access to healthcare and
for greater assistance to special-education students, O’Connell
said the governor shortchanged schools to the tune of $5 billion
over the past two years. According to O’Connell, if the state
honored the funding requirements mandated by Proposition 98, the
additional monies could be used for class-size reduction and other
initiatives that would improve school performance.


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