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LBBJ: Scores from 2009 show the U.S. ranking 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics among 15-year-olds in 34 nations. The highest scoring countries are South Korea, Finland, Singapore, areas of China, Canada. In 2010, Newsweek published its first-ever “Best Countries” issue and ranked the United States 26th in education overall among 100 nations. What do you think of those statistics, and how would you address them?
DeLong: I think we’re heading in the wrong direction, from an education perspective. You’ve given me some international statistics, and California is even worse, right? We’re near the bottom of the pack. So as bad as it is nationally, it’s even worse here. Certainly, one of the issues in California is that not only do we have systemic problems, but we clearly have a lack of funding problem.
The state legislature has just attacked the education system budgets in the last several years. They’ve cut the Cal State University system by over 30 percent in the last two years.
They’ve cut the UC system. They’ve made devastating cuts to community colleges and the K-12 education. Not only do we have poor test scores, like you mentioned, but the real cost is going to be a generation from now when we have that workforce, that group of students who have graduated, that don’t have sufficient education to compete in a global economy. Then we will truly pay the price. But, you know the state legislature has chosen to cut education rather than cut pensions.
LBBJ: Would you support Proposition 30 or 38?
DeLong: I would certainly not support Proposition 30.
LBBJ: So how would you address funding for education?
DeLong: What I would do is make different choices, like we’ve done in the City of Long Beach. We’ve made some very difficult decisions. We have fewer police officers, fewer firefighters. We’ve had to restructure our library system. We’re making changes to parks and recreation. We’re making some very difficult decisions here in the city. It does not appear to me that California has made those difficult decisions. I’ll give you an example. Here in the city, we have 20 percent fewer employees today than we did a decade ago. But the state has 21 percent more employees today than they did a decade ago. So we’ve trimmed employees; they’ve added. They’re heading in the wrong direction. They’ve just created more bureaucracy.
LBBJ: Other than restructuring or layoffs, what is your opinion of federal school vouchers?
DeLong: By the way, restructuring doesn’t necessarily mean layoffs. I think oftentimes there’s enough turnover that you can manage most of this through attrition. I’m certainly not suggesting that the state go and layoff 20 percent of its employees tomorrow. But I think you could do it through a job freeze, through attrition . . .
LBBJ: Like Long Beach has done.
DeLong: In Long Beach, we’ve laid some off, not many, but the vast majority have been through attrition. The state could have easily done the same thing.
LBBJ: Going back, what is your opinion of federal school vouchers or education tax credit systems?
DeLong: I think vouchers make sense. It creates a more competitive environment, and that reflects our society. We have a competitive, capitalistic economy. I think we can do the same thing in education. We should have a level playing field. When there’s competition, everybody picks up their game and takes it to the next level.
LBBJ: What about using school vouchers for religious institutions? Would you be okay with that?
DeLong: I would absolutely consider that.
LBBJ: Going back to test scores, do you think the current systems of evaluating educators and institutions, such as standardized testing, are adequate?
DeLong: I don’t. I think that we have a system that unfortunately often teaches kids to take tests. It doesn’t instill knowledge in them. I’ve certainly seen that in my older children. My older girls are in college now, and one of them in particular is a great test taker.
LBBJ: What, then, do you think about including test score results in teacher evaluations?
DeLong: What I believe is that we need to hire and retain teachers based on their performance, as we do in the private sector, for sure, and as we attempt to do in the public sector. So, really, you’re job security should be not how long you’ve been in the system. It should be based on what value you bring to the organization. Unfortunately, we are in a situation today where often the best teachers are laid off – the young ones with enthusiasm, with a high skill set, that understand the new teaching methods – and then we retain people who are on the verge of retirement. This isn’t true for all of them, but many of them are on the verge of retirement. They are tired of teaching. They don’t want to be there, but they are there to collect a paycheck. Our kids are not well served in that environment. We need more balance. I recognize that will not make the CTA (California Teachers Association) happy.
LBBJ: It’s the seniority issue that . . .
DeLong: Well, yeah. They don’t even want to get rid of a teacher that is a child molester. And Alan Lowenthal voted against making it easier for the school district to terminate a teacher that is a child molester. That’s crazy to me. I think that’s wrong.
LBBJ: Arts programs tend to be some of the first to be cut from public education. Do you think the arts are appropriately valued as a component of an education?
DeLong: Well, I think that goes back to the testing. Is there a test to determine whether or not you are good at art? No. So that’s why they cut it. It’s not part of the standardized testing. I think that arts and culture are a critical part of someone’s education. I think they are absolutely necessary.
LBBJ: Cuts to public education continue, impacting after-school programs and athletics. The U.S. is also faced with an obesity epidemic. What do you think needs to be done to address the health and fitness needs of Americans and our youth?
DeLong: I think parents should take more responsibility for their children’s behavior. I think that’s true for education, I think that’s true for their health and for everything. You can’t force someone to be educated.
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