Why Schools Are Failing

California’s fourth-graders tie for last, with Louisiana, in reading. Eighth-graders lag a full year behind in science. Half the high school graduates need remedial help when they enter state colleges. Even the children of college graduates trail their counterparts across the country.

California’s classrooms contain 45% of the nation’s immigrant students and hundreds of thousands living in poverty. Yet more than 31,000 of the state’s teachers lack full credentials.

California’s school libraries have fewer books per student than anywhere else in the country, its students fewer counselors.

At some high schools, teachers are pleased if students read even tattoo magazines or superhero comics.


How could this have happened in a state that 30 years ago was fifth in the nation in per-pupil spending and pioneered the ideal of a college education for all?

No wonder that public education has moved to the forefront of issues in California--the focus of initiatives by the governor, the first thing asked of the candidates to succeed him and a leading concern in every public opinion survey.

To determine what has gone wrong, a team of Times reporters intensively examined the state’s system of 8,000 public schools, harnessing the findings of a Times poll of students, teachers and parents and detailed analyses of state databases by UCLA education experts and Times computer specialists.

Finally, a crew of reporters tracked a week in the life of seven high schools, from a white suburb of Sacramento to a working-class high school in Orange County to immigrant-rich, inner-city neighborhoods of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Their special report begins today in Section S--the first of three sections on consecutive days detailing California’s perilous educational slide.