So what is it like to teach in an average California classroom? Our teachers have some of the very largest class sizes, the most students who do not speak English in the home, the highest rate of parents with no high school diploma, and teach a student population that is the most ethnically diverse in the country. And they do it with less: Our state spends $614 less per student than the national average.
If we assume a classroom of 26 students, the so-called average California class would be comprised of 12 Latino, eight white, four Asian, and two African-American students. Six students would be part of a family where the head of the household did not graduate from high school. Five students would speak a language other than English at home. Three students would be classified as special education.
California has among the very toughest content standards in the country. Our high school graduation rates are at the national average, our academic achievement scores are near the national average when English Learner scores are excluded, and our SAT scores for college bound students are at the national average. The percent of students taking high school Advanced Placement exams ranks California among the top states in the country. However, only 25 percent of high school graduates matriculate to four-year colleges and universities, below the national average of 38 percent.
California's educational spending ranks around 30th among the states, in an area with one of the highest cost of living indexes. In 2005-06, California ranked 49th in the nation in pupil-teacher and pupil-staff ratios. This means that a California school of 1,000 students would have 48 teachers compared to a national average of 64. That same California school would have 2.2 school site administrators, when the national average is 3.4.
Every day, California's public school educators are performing heroic tasks teaching an incredibly diverse student population with dwindling resources. We are fortunate that our local high schools rate above state average in almost all of these categories. However, if we want to continue to be globally competitive, then we must invest in a public education system that supports our efforts to educate an increasingly diverse and needy population.
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