(This post was co authored by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D., vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
Yesterday, voters soundly rejected five of six ballot propositions touted as fixes for the state’s $15.4 billion budget gap, which relied on borrowing and a $16 billion temporary tax increase (on top of the nearly $13 billion in tax hikes approved by the legislature in February). Backers of the ballot measures, including Sacramento politicians and the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association, are reeling from this stunning vote of no-confidence, but citizens of the Golden State are standing their ground: Cuts must be made to spending, including California’s massive-and massively ineffective-K-12 budget.
Fortunately, methods exist to both lower spending AND increase student achievement. A growing body of academic literature demonstrates that the talent of individual teachers is far and away the largest within-school factor in driving student achievement gains. Students with talented K-12 instructors learn 50 percent more of any given subject than students with bottom quintile teachers. The impact of the individual teacher is 10 to 20 times greater than that of variation in class size.
But instead of working to attract the best and the brightest minds into teaching, California has a unionized K-12 system that treats teachers like factory workers. The state has hired armies of administrators, made a counterproductive fetish of class size, and done nothing to attract and reward outstanding student learning gains. The result is record-level funding while 47 percent of 4th graders now score below basic in reading on the Nation’s Report Card. We call for something radical: rock-star pay for rock-star teachers. Instead of spending billions of dollars annually on ineffective programs, bloated bureaucracy, and wasteful administration, give teachers market-based pay. With status-quo, special-interest politics discredited in California, perhaps this and other common-sense reforms can start taking root.