Policies that strengthen data tracking and improve pre-kindergarten programs are needed now to ensure the state's children are successful in the 21st century, according to a study released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California.
The report, "California 2025: Preparing for a Better Future," examined a range of problems facing the state in education and six other areas, including population growth, climate change and the economy.
Jill Cannon, a fellow at PPIC who specializes in educational matters, said the report's findings were designed to offer less costly suggestions to decision-makers and community leaders grappling with the current budget crisis.
Overall, Cannon and a team of analysts found encouraging improvements in education. But they worry that the state budget problems threaten that progress.
Since 2003, students have made gains on the California Standards Test, with over 50 percent passing the mathematics and English language arts sections of the exam.
Yet, more than 40 percent don't pass, suggesting "we still have a long way to go," according to the report.
Cannon says improving the state's pre-kindergarden outreach will be vital to improving graduation rates by equipping children with the skills needed to succeed in elementary, middle and high schools. An earlier PPIC study found students likely to fail the California High School Exit Exam can be identified as early as fourth grade.
"Learning is cumulative," Cannon said. "If the foundation isn't right, you're going to struggle."
The lack of a single database to track years of student data makes it difficult to hold school districts accountable or assess whether reforms are working, Cannon said.
Cannon said she is hopeful that Gov. Jerry Brown's recent announcement of a task force to examine the development of the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System will kick-start an effort that lagged under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"You know we tend to put things off in California. But these are things we can focus on now to better position California for the long term," Cannon said.