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Failing Upward: The Disgrace of California's K-12

California schools have been failing California kids and families for years. Our educational failures pre-date shut-down, the Big C of the "covid everything" excuse, trans flags in every classroom, and drag queen story hour.

Way back in the late 1980s, California's experimental educators decided to experiment with every way to teach kids how to read, except for the tried and true, and practical, system of "phonics."

Phonics works. This isn't just a Republican saying that "phonics works." Actual experts in early childhood education have been saying, and proving, the usefulness of phonics for generations. We've been fighting the so-called "reading wars" in American education since the earliest days of the Baby Boom seventy-plus years ago.

In the late 1980s, the California public education system opted to take a hard left turn away from EVERYTHING that worked and experiment with things that didn't (and still don't) work. If you want to read a truly tragic article we dragged up out of the ancient history of the internet --the 1990s are ancient history on the net-- click here to read the long-form piece from the Atlantic magazine about California's educational experiments and failures in the 1980s and 1990s.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and California schools have been fundamentally failing millions of our most vulnerable kids for years. If you are part of a two-parent family in California you might be able to figure out a way to scrimp and save and have one parent leave the work-force to focus full-time on home-schooling the kids. If you are a part of a high-income family in California you can skip the Bali vacations, skip the new cars, hustle grandma and grandpa for money, and pay for private school tuition. And, in the overwhelmingly blue SF Bay Area, many of your champagne socialist "liberal" neighbors do just that. Our local PRIVATE schools are some of the best in the state. But, they're expensive. The vast majority of families in the SF Bay area just can't afford 30K a year or more for tuition.

Meanwhile over 50% of the kids trapped in public schools in California can't read at grade level. Over 70% of the black kids trapped in public schools in California can't read at grade level. Those two statistics alone suggest that yes, California does have a problem with racism. The statistics suggest that systemic racism is alive and well in our public K-12 system.

Our California public education system is failing far too many of our kids. We have now reached the point where merely being "mediocre" would be aspirational. California's schools are failing kids at a fundamental level. But, it doesn't have to be that way. If you haven't heard of the Mississippi Reading Miracle please click here to read about a state that, educationally, should be a model for EVERY state in the Union. Until about a decade ago, Mississippi was the butt of educational jokes. Mississippi now has the best early reading program in the country. How did Mississippi do it?

  • 1) They decided to train educators in phonics.

  • 2) They decided to focus on the crucial early years of kindergarten through 3rd grade.

  • 3) They decided to use a rigorous systemic phonics-based teaching system. (As opposed to just "winging it" and hoping for the best.)

  • 4) They decided to set goals.

  • 5) They decided to follow through.

Mississippi's "reading miracle" took ten years of hard work.

Meanwhile, in California, the system, of course, is trying to claim that with more trans flags, more money --or less fear of the big c-- everything would mysteriously improve. Or, worse, the system is congratulating itself on continuing to fail.

In case you don't know the name, Tony Thurmond is the current California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He's a Democrat. (He's recently filed to open a committee to run for Governor in a few years. Yes, Tony Thurmond could be the next Gavin Newsom!) On Tony Thurmond's watch the California public K-12 system went from bad to worse. And, just a few days ago, he took a victory lap on Twitter to celebrate receiving an award for "excellence." Too bad there is nothing worth celebrating in our current system.

We can whine and complain and wring our hands in horror that a man who is in charge of a system that is systemically failing, is receiving an "award" in a state where million of kids literally can't read at grade level. (We can be horrified that he's running for Governor. Democrats in California have no shame.) Or we can try and think like Mississippi. Which means, we can try and be practical.

This isn't just a matter of "politics" or "values." Too many life-long conservatives seem to think our problems in the classroom would all be "fixed" if schoolteachers talked about the Constitution more. The reality is that we're failing an entire generation of kids in California by failing to confront the massive educational failures in the system. This isn't just about "wokeness" --this is about more than half of the kids trapped in California's public K-12 system not being able to read at grade level.

Relatively few people actually want to serve in local government. If you are a Republican you are probably busy. You have jobs and kids, personal responsibilities and hobbies. Many of the people who end up "serving" in government are retirees or people with an agenda --maybe they want to run for higher office someday, maybe they want to impose their agenda on you.

Forty-plus years ago the Democrats of Marin started concentrating on local school boards and city councils. They built a bench while Republicans were raising families. Now, a lot of the Republican parents of the early 1980s are wondering why their kids don't share their politics, work ethic, or values. (FYI: Even in the 1980s the schools weren't always that great in Marin. And they could be extremely political. Classroom "indoctrination" doesn't just start on the college campus.)

We're having elections next year. And yes, a lot of people are obsessing about the presidential elections. But, we're having local elections as well. Dozens of different LOCAL education-related seats will be on the ballot next year.

Based on the stats, it seems pretty clear that you don't need to be the best candidate. You just need to be better than the people who are currently blithely comfortable with failure.

We're looking for a few good local candidates. Will you step up? Will you even think about it? If you are thinking about taking one for the team and running for local office next year please contact us.

Do you care enough to learn more about what needs to be done at a local level?

We look forward to hearing from you soon. Because California kids deserve to have as much of a chance at success as Mississippi kids.

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