07 Jan 2005

Arnolds State of the State

Arnold gave his State of the State speech two days ago, while I was on my way to the Stockton DFA meeting.

It was actually a very interesting speech, and I would encourage you to read or listen to it, if you haven’t already. You can find it at the Governors website. He addressed things such as California’s budget, the effect of special interests and lobbying groups on politics, public school merit pay, and redrawing district lines. He also mentioned something called the Hydrogen Highway, which I had not heard of before, but have since seen some amusing pictures of the Gov filling up his Hydrogen Hummer on said Highway.


I would like to address some of the issues he spoke of in his speech for a moment. First is merit pay for public high school teachers. Arnold says (see if you can read this without doing his voice in your head…):

Let me say this to every California teacher who is opening the minds of our children and nurturing their lives: I want to reward you for your hard work. I want to reward you for the sacrifices you make. I want to reward you for the learning that you instill.

But I cannot do so under the current system. Help me change it.

We must financially reward good teachers and expel those who are not. The more we reward excellent teachers, the more our teachers will be excellent. The more we tolerate ineffective teachers, the more our teachers will be ineffective.

So, in the special session, I propose that teacher pay be tied to merit, not tenure. And I propose that teacher employment be tied to performance, not to just showing up.

And I want to say to every Californian who has a child: “Your child deserves a good teacher. An educational system that rewards and protects a bad teacher at the expense of a child is wrong. And I intend to change that system.”

So, he has some good points here, good teachers need to be retained and recruited and encouraged, while bad teachers should be retrained or let go. However, I personally feel that his solution will be counterproductive. For one, it is very difficult, if at all possible, to quantitatively measure a teachers merit. The pay will be based off of standardized test scores, which only makes our schools dependent on them further. If a teacher is judged only on the test scores he elicits, then teachers are given even further incentive to teach to the tests. Do we really want a school system that only excels at turning out students that can take multiple choice logical-mathematical tests? When I post my issue statement on education, I will argue that the answer to that is ‘no’, but for now, I would like you to ask yourselves that question. Is doing well on standardized tests really what it means to be well educated?

Arnold spends a lot of time in the speech speaking of how much we spend on education, and how badly our system is doing :

California will spend $50 billion on K through 14 education this year; that’s $2.9 billion more than last year. Nearly half the state’s budget is dedicated to education.


But $50 billion, and we still have 30 percent of high school students not graduating. That is a human disaster.

$50 billion and we still have hundreds of schools that are failing. That is an institutional disaster.

$50 billion and the majority of our students cannot even perform at their grade level. That is an educational disaster.

Dire indeed, but what he fails to mention is that while we spend a lot on education, we also have a lot of children here. The total amount is very high, but spread over all of the children that we have to educate, we rank 44th in the nation in spending per student. Our student to teacher ratio is 21 to 1, the second highest in the nation. Adjusted for living, teacher pay is 32nd in the nation. Merit pay will not fix this problem, and merit pay based on test scores will only make things worse.

Next, Arnold addressed district lines :

Fourth, we must make California’s elections democratic once again.

When I was studying to take my citizenship test, I learned about gerrymandering and how politicians changed the boundaries of a voting area to protect themselves. For a long time I thought that was something that happened way back in the 1800’s, but the practice is still alive and well today.

Here is a telling statistic: 153 of California’s congressional and legislative seats were up in the last election and not one changed parties.

What kind of democracy is that?

I will propose that an independent panel of retired judges-not politicians-determine California’s legislative and congressional districts.

They can draw fair, honest district lines that make politicians of both parties accountable to the people.

The current system is rigged to benefit the interests of those in office . . . not the interests of those who put them there. And we must reform it.

I completely agree, and here is something you will only hear from Arnold, or people that are challengers and not actually in office. Every legislator will come up with reasons why this is bad – hardcore Republicans are saying he’s out to replace them with moderate Republicans, Democrats are saying that he’s out to replace them with Republicans, etc… I think this is incredibly important, and is one of the root causes of the rampant and rabid partisanship we are all tired of today. Candidates are getting more and more ideologically extreme, because they know they will not lose. If you think that districts are drawn for any reason other than getting the incumbent re-elected, take a look at mine.

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