The Golden State Schooling Blues

Are California Schools Really Behind?


How does

California compare?

Each year 4th and 8th graders take the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The NAEP is ongoing assessment of what U.S. students know and what they can do in different subjects. It allows people to compare student achievement between states, grades and subgroups. California’s children tend to score relatively poorly on these tests.

The differences between California's children and children elsewhere in the country are statistically significant. Research has shown that children not reading at grade level by the end of third grade are at serious risk of never graduating from high school.

The chart shows the average score of children in each state. A score of 229 is needed to reach the level of proficiency. Although California's scores have increased over the past ten years, they are still below proficiency level.

Here is a break down of California's
NAEP results by Race*:

*You can sort the test score results by clicking on the corresponding year.

Child Poverty

Poverty is an issue that more and more of our nation's children are coming face to face with. Poverty correlates strongly with academic results. California’s children in poverty generally score behind those in other states, as do California’s Hispanic students. On average, about a third of California’s students do not finish high school.

Students that “drop out” are not random – they are disproportionately African American and Hispanic, and they disproportionately come from low-income families.

Factors related to poverty that may place a child at-risk for academic failure are:

  • very young, single or low educational level parents
  • homelessness, abuse and neglect
  • exposure to inadequate educational experiences

Achievement Gaps: The Biggest Challenge

What Achievement

Gaps affect

There are multiple achievement gaps that affect California. In addition to the high and low-income widened student gap, the Hispanic-White gap has a major impact on the state’s educational outcomes. The gap between English-learners and non-English-learners has grown to be California’s widest achievement gap.

Students from Low Income families, that are English Learners, Hispanic and African Americans continue to have lower average scores on The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). Poor, unequal student achievement results in a less educated society and a less productive workforce.

Student Enrollment by County

Each student arrives at school with different challenges, advantages, resources, and distractions. A fundamental challenge of public education is to create conditions that maximize learning for each child, each year, regardless of where they start. California has the largest and most diverse student population in America.

About half of California’s students are Hispanic. In about 30 years, the state’s K-12 schools added about 3 million Hispanic students, accounting for virtually all of the growth in California enrollment. White students make up about a quarter of the state student body. Most of the remaining students are Asian (9%), African-American (6%), or Native American (3%). About 3% of California students associate themselves with none of the above. California’s large urban districts educate students from virtually every culture and linguistic background on the planet.


Life after

High School

Even those students who finish high school ready for college do not necessarily go to college, and the school system is not necessarily set up to encourage them to do so. A student’s interest in college may not translate into action without support. Virtually all California high schools long ago reduced the number of college counselors on their staffs. Even still it is easy to predict which students will earn a degree and which will not. Only 46% of black students and 53% of Hispanic students graduated within six years, compared with 66% of white students.

For every 100 9th graders in California:

  • 74.2 Graduate High School on time
  • 45.8 Start College by the age of 24
  • 30.4 Stay enrolled a year later
  • 22.4 Earn a degree within 6 years
  • 12.2 Earn a 4-year degree

California has a long and well-respected history of providing its residents with affordable, lifelong access to postsecondary education. The largest and most visible investment has been a robust public system of colleges and universities. With recent budget cuts, California’s road to and through college has become pocketed with potholes. Whether by strategy or by circumstance, California’s education systems are overdue for some rethinking to allow its residence to enjoy postsecondary education.