If you don't believe these are trying times in public education, you owe it to yourself to sit in on a local district presentation of the California Healthy Kids Survey.
The state-funded survey, which asks a battery of questions of fifth-, seventh-, ninth- and 11th-grade students every two years, is described as a comprehensive collection of "youth risk behavior and resilience data," but it's more of a peek-behind-the-curtains at everything parents don't want to know and were afraid to ask about their children.
It asks students if they have been bullied in school; if they feel safe on campus; if they have been harassed online; if they have had property stolen, been pushed and shoved or involved in fist fights. But that's just the tip of a large, imposing iceberg. Have they smoked? Consumed alcohol? Tried drugs? Been wasted?
Every school district in California must participate in the survey to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, Title IV, but what recently brought the biennial event into the spotlight was the Berkeley school district's airing of its 2012 results at a board meeting.
It was difficult to know whether to be more surprised at the findings or at officials' reactions to them.
"I was totally shocked, to be honest, to see the results because I did not think we would see that much improvement so soon," Director of Student Services Susan Craig told reporter Doug Oakley.
What result made her so pleased?
Yeah, that was good news. It represented a decrease from 48 percent in 2010.
Want some more good news? Only 10 percent of high school juniors brought weapons -- a gun, knife or club -- to school. So if you were sitting in a class of 25, it was highly unlikely that more than two or three students were armed. It's almost as safe as visiting a convent.
A few more Berkeley discoveries, just to make certain we've set the mood: 38 percent of 11th-graders and 20 percent of all ninth-graders acknowledged using marijuana within 30 days of the survey; 45 percent 11th-graders and 27 percent of ninth-graders said they had consumed alcohol during that time.
As much as we'd like to attach this problem solely to one school district -- this is Berkeley, after all -- that would be unfair. A search of the most recent survey available for the Mt. Diablo school district (2010), isn't terribly different.
Forty-three percent of high school juniors said they had tried marijuana by age 16, and 33 percent said they'd used it four or more times. Forty-one percent said they drank alcohol at least that often, and 22 percent had been head-in-the-toilet sick three or more times.
Students' penchant for weaponry also struck a familiar chord. Twelve percent of both ninth-graders and 11th-graders had brought weapons to school. Six percent of both groups admitted to bringing guns. Attending class must be scarier than going to an Oakland Raiders game.
For those of us who were students when slingshots were regarded as cutting-edge armaments and foul language was barred from playgrounds, this image seems to portend a society run amok.
But what it is, is the new reality. It's the culture that parents permit and public school teachers confront. And it helps explain why more funding isn't the only thing needed to improve our educational system.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.