California Literacy Rate Tumbles, Symptom of State's Education Ills?
By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report
On the same day a coalition of more than a half dozen organizations representing California teachers from elementary to university faculty held a press conference to address the financial crisis now gripping "California’s crumbling education system," the results of a national report on literacy - conducted annually by Central Connecticut State University - were announced, offering some disturbing news to Californians about the state's declining literacy levels last year, while presenting a measurable symptom of more than eight years of cuts to the state's education budgets.
Even California's total number of cities included in the literacy study, more than any other state, failed to garner even a single spot among the nation's "Top Ten Most Literate Cities."
The news from CCSU’s New Britain, Connecticut campus reporting California's statewide literacy decline, arrived in Sacramento the same morning California educators were conducting their news conference, with the report appearin to validate the teacher’s concern and justify their plea to California’s governor and legislators: The state’s educational system is failing and Sacramento must restore more than four billion dollars in funding to prevent irreparable harm to a system vital to the state's economy and future.
California's education system once promised California's children a quality K-12 public education and a guarantee of access to higher education for any qualified student, regardless of their income. It was an offer which made education a fundamental liberty of every citizen, while allowing the state to meet the needs of burgeoning high-tech industries requiring a college-educated workforce.
California’s education machine has been credited with meeting the diverse research needs of California industries, even creating new industries, through its production of world-class research in genetics, engineering, agriculture, wine, pharmaceuticals and computer technologies, among others.
So for those Legislators resolved to deny any new revenue generation this year, even to address the shortfall in the education budget, California’s literacy tumble seemed tangible proof to the educators representing UC and State College faculty during Tuesday’s press conference that the state’s economic woes have created a multitude of educational ills which are manifest in the quantifiable symptom of the state’s declining level of literacy, at least as measured by Central Connecticut State University’s annual study.
$4.6 Billion Needed to Restore Education in CA
STAN GLANTZ, Vice President, Council of University of California Faculty Associations said that the state’s institutes of higher learning have been hit with budget cuts, “since 2002, the year budgets really began to fall short.” Glantz believes Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has “a Milton Friedman-esque plan to privatize” California’s educational system. Glantz and the other educators speaking Tuesday agreed that a diminished and dismantled state educational system will be Schwarzenegger’s “real legacy.”
Glantz cited “Freeway Fliers,” roving faculty who teach courses at multiple community and state campuses, as being particularly hard hit by the cuts.. These educators, while among the least expensive, are the first terminated because of their part-time status.
Also suffering, according to Glantz, are the enrollments of graduate students, prized by all universities, Glantz claims California’s Universities are no longer competitive for these students and Glantz believes “it will take years” to rebuild graduate student ranks.
Glantz estimated it will take $4.6 billion dollars this year in order to restore the education budget. “While that number sounds like a lot, and it is, I have calculated the cost to repair California’s education system would be $32 dollars per taxpayer..” Glantz believes that any legislator opposing a revenue increase to restore the state’s education system ought to be asked to justify the system’s destruction over what amounts to $32 dollars per taxpayer.
Almost All Fell Down
Every California city fell in ranking from 2008 to 2009 in the CCSU study, except Stockton, California. Far from being a bright spot in the report, however, Stockton managed only to pick itself up off the bottom of the list to reach the third-from-bottom position. And despite California’s size and greater number of cities included in the ranking, no golden state city appeared in the study’s ‘Top Ten’ listing.
San Francisco, which ranked 5th in the nation last year, remained California’s most literate city, but the City by the Bay still fell a noticeable seven positions, to 12th place, in this year’s study.
The study -- “America’s Most Literate Cities 2009” -- identified the top ten U.S. cities as:
1)Seattle, WA, 2)Washington, DC, 3) Minneapolis, MN, 4) Pittsburgh, PA, 5) Atlanta, GA, 6) Portland, OR, 7) St. Paul, MN, 8) Boston, MA, 9) Cincinnati, OH and 10) Denver, CO completed the “Top Ten” cities.
CCSU bases a city’s literacy rate on factors such as newspaper circulation, the number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publications, educational attainment and Internet availability, among other benchmarks.
Central Connecticut State University's president, Jack Miller, told media the research at the school’s New Britain, CT campus, confines the report to metropolitan areas with population of at least 250,000, so California’s smaller communities were not part of the dismal assessment.
"This set of factors measures people's use of their literacy and thus presents a large-scale portrait of our nation's cultural vitality," Miller said in an overview of the study.. "From this data we can better perceive the extent and quality of the long-term literacy essential to individual economic success, civic participation, and the quality of life in a community and a nation.”
Miller noted the results must be kept in context. "As I've mentioned before, the ranking is necessarily an interpretation of data. What matters most is not whether the rank ordering changes but what communities do to promote the kinds of literacy practices that the data track."
While San Francisco fell to No. 12, the city remained California’s most literate. The second-highest California city was San Diego, which tied for 33rd with Miami, Florida. San Diego was followed by Oakland at No. 35, nationally, while Sacramento tied with weather-challenged Buffalo, N.Y., for the 41st ranking.
At No. 73, just two notches above rock-bottom, Bakersfield was California’s worst ranked city and the third worst nationally.
Dan Aiello is the Sacramento reporter for the California Progress Report.