California at the Front of Education Trends

Requires eighth-grade algebra, says no to climate change instruction.

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When it comes to education, California likes to be ahead of most trends. But sometimes state lawmakers get a little carried away. Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two separate bills that, for better or for worse, would have firmly cemented California's reputation as an education trendsetter. One bill would have required schools to carve out time specifically for teaching kids about climate change; the other would have allowed teachers to hand out rewards—possibly movie and restaurant coupons or tickets to concerts and sporting events—for good scores on standardized tests. The two bills were introduced by state lawmakers who are Democrats. Schwarzenegger, a moderate conservative, says he supports climate change instruction in schools as well as the use of cash and other perks to motivate students but believes that such decisions should be left up to individual schools.

Oddly enough, he threw his support behind a separate similarly far-out-there proposal that will require all future eighth graders to take algebra. Critics, including teachers, point out that about half of all California eighth graders fail basic math and that the new requirement will set more students up for failure unless the state offers more assistance.

Indeed, without more resources, it will be difficult for California to remain at the forefront of education trends—at least the good ones. This week, U.S. News reported on a number of states that are taking extreme and potentially harmful measures to save on food and energy costs. Add California to the list. School districts there are ending or cutting back on home-to-school transportation, and now families are threatening to sue. Private shuttle buses have seized this opportunity to charge families $400 a month to transport kids.