A Golden Opportunity for education in the Golden State

150 150 Susan Lovenburg

Today, California Forward releases A Golden Opportunity: The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence as a Force for Positive Change, prepared in partnership with internationally acclaimed education reform practitioner Michael Fullan.  The paper suggests considerations for the recently created California Collaborative for Educational Excellence.

Governance in California is undergoing tectonic changes. Some of these changes are the result of deliberate policies to shift authority and responsibility to community level governments with the expectation that those agencies will deliver better results.  The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and Public Safety Realignment are two highly visible examples of what Governor Jerry Brown has termed subsidiarity. 

Other state innovations – including the requirement for Sustainable Community Strategies and Integrated Water Management Plans – explicitly encourage local governments to work together to accomplish multiple goals that cannot be achieved without cooperation, innovation and learning.  And still other changes – including self-initiated alliances among K-12 schools and county offices of education, community colleges, and four-year universities – are examples of community-level leaders responding to needs unmet by higher levels of government. These trends are not unique to California, and reflect a new way of advancing the public interest with leadership emerging at an optimal decision making level to address public needs.  

These changes are instigated and reinforced by several factors and trends.  Among them: Public agencies are facing fiscal pressures requiring them to control costs and improve results.  Integrated services – including educational and social services – have been proven to be cost-effective, but are hard to engineer at the state or federal levels.  Distinct cultural needs of communities and regions require tailored approaches, even to achieve common statewide outcomes.  And civic involvement and public support are both critical to improvement efforts, and best incorporated at the community level.

Over the next few years, public education in California is positioned to become one of the most improved systems in America and internationally. Forces at all levels are aligning in ways that are seen only once in a generation.  In the context of the profound governance changes underway, the LCFF and the CCEE offer a foundational opportunity to replace compliance-based oversight with an excellence-oriented strategy to inspire, inform, and connect professionals and communities throughout California.

There is increasingly precise knowledge about what it takes to develop effective education reform, and there is strong internal expertise within California that can be mobilized to bring about substantial improvements in the learning lives of students in the state.  The CCEE will become a valued asset to the system if it:

  • Successfully identifies key areas of need in districts with regards to capacity building for improvement of teach practice and student learning
  • Establishes a valued repository of current, proven expertise and resources available to develop those capacities
  • Effectively brokers capacity building resources adequate to the context and learning needs of districts, to increase their ability to improve from within
  • Monitors progress, identifies and builds success around district improvement and makes it visible across the state

In preparing A Golden Opportunity, we sought to capture some of the best ideas and thinking from leaders in California with deep knowledge of the system and proven records of success mobilizing whole system improvement. Our intent is to offer constructive ideas as the form and function of the CCEE begin to take shape. [READ THE FULL REPORT HERE]

The early implementation of both educational and public safety reforms has revealed some of the concerns associated with shifting from state-centered to community-centered governance.  Many of those concerns relate to the varying capacities of local government to make good use of their new authority.  While capacity-building efforts have emerged – involving regional collaborations, professional associations, nongovernmental organizations, and philanthropy – the state has an interest in accelerating capacity building to demonstrate the potential of the reforms, and to replace the distrust that underlies many of the concerns regarding subsidiarity with confidence in community decision-makers.

The Governor and the Legislature recognized this new state interest in establishing the CCEE.  Now, the leadership of the CCEE has the opportunity to operationalize the new entity in a way that further defines and advances this interest, while simultaneously fortifying implementation efforts, establishing momentum, and solidifying support for the overall reform.  

California’s education sector has a golden opportunity to fulfill its promise of delivering high quality education to all students and become one of the most improved systems in America over the next few years. In particular, educators have the chance to raise the bar and close the learning gap among students across the state.  The ideas outlined here are offered to contribute to making California Collaborative for Educational Excellence a trusted and effective ally in the quest for substantial improvement across the educational system in California.


Susan Lovenburg

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