California’s Golden Opportunity: How to fine tune local control school reform

150 150 Michael Fullan

(Photo Credit: Violeta Vaqueiro)

Note: This is the third commentary under the title of California's Golden Opportunity, a series on California's Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) shcool reform, which places more decision-making authority with individual school districts. Originally published by Michael Fullan and others (see, and supported by the Stuart Foundation. 

California's Golden Opportunity: LCAP's Theory of Action: Problems and Corrections

The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and its companion, the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), represent a significant shift in funding arrangements, from external accountability and compliance to placing responsibility and resources at the district level.

LCFF/LCAP is vulnerable to the historical weaknesses of any statewide initiative. However, identifying problems with early LCAP implementation provides an opportunity to fine tune LCAP and achieve major improvements.

Three Problems

I see three problematic areas in the first stages of LCAP:

Making Complexity Complicated

When you try something new, with a lot at stake, there is a tendency to add too many requirements. Bureaucracy and interest groups, even when well intentioned, can make the beginning process overly complicated, for instance through use of elaborate LCAP templates. Many districts actually become less clear as they wade through the LCAP thicket. And, of course, complicated plans are difficult to implement and to assess.

Remember two cardinal implementation principles: Keep it simple and keep it brief!

Overdoing Front-end Process

It is useful to seek stakeholder input. However, too much input prior to action leads to people being mired in detail. Goals and strategies need to be articulated, but elaborate checklists for stakeholders are not the solution.

My point here should not be misinterpreted. The future must be grounded in strong partnerships among students, families and educators. But people will not be engaged by 100-page documents, but rather through helping to identify and work toward a small number of meaningful learning goals.

Making the Plan the Goal

Districts are finding that the LCAP can unintentionally become a bureaucratic compliance requirement rather than a springboard for action. With the unwieldy but compulsory template for the LCAP, the task becomes 'get our plan done and approved'. Scoring plans on a rubric will not tell districts how to improve capacity and progress on student learning.

Advocacy groups may not trust the system to get it right. But requirements to specify more details — will be counterproductive. Second-guessing capacity to develop good plans de-motivates districts.

As to external accountability, it is not clear what will replace the previous California Academic Performance Index (API). But if districts focus on supporting instructional and leadership capacity linked to student results, they can deal with any external measures.

Three Corrections

I suggest three guidelines for 'LCAPing' more in tune with predictable success:

Step One: First principles–local control for results

Starting with LCAP guidelines, districts identify their main goals. Input from stakeholders is essential but need not be laborious. The intent is to develop a Compelling Focus that promises to move the needle. Is there persuasive evidence (achievement data, attendance data, stakeholder survey) that the district has a compelling reason the focus? If the answer is no or vague then additional questions can be asked.

Step Two: Describe your plan and how you will show progress

What actions could be taken to improve results? What would an effective road map look like? How will necessary collaboration be assured? Districts articulate what they expect to change as a result of planned action, and what indicators will show progress.

Step Three: Agree on transparency and monitoring

Districts must be clear about how LCAP progress will be assessed. Leading indicators (evidence of instructional shift in practice, formative student results), and 'trailing' indicators (summative student results in achievement and behavior) should be used and be communicated transparently, along with actions to address problems.

Districts need time to implement sustainable change; there are few short cuts. However, during the process, public monitoring of progress on equity and excellence is a priority.

Plans following these guidelines can be described in 10 pages or less.

Next Steps

California has a rare opportunity for district and school improvement, with state commitment and resources. But time is of the essence; we need to step back and consider how best to take advantage of the opportunity.

We need mechanisms that will support the steps outlined above. At least three consortia have been established to assist districts in developing effective LCAP activities and disseminating what is learned as they do this work. The three are:

  • California Forward/CSBA: a group of 17 districts intended to spur quality implementation;
  • Group of Six County Offices, working on behalf of all 58 counties and their districts supported by California Ed Partners and the County Offices (CCESA); and
  • ACSA sponsors a group of 15 districts of varied sizes.

Other groups are also involved in linking activities. Along with the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, the CDE Local Agency System Support Office could identify and spread examples of less bureaucratic and more direct-action plans. Others in coordinating roles are the California Labor Management Initiative, involving California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers in partnership with other state organizations.

These groups can continue to help districts become more focused, as well as sharing examples of good practice, described simply and clearly. With multiple groups involved in supporting the development of LCAPs, coordination will require attention. Such coordination will be easier if everyone is moving in the same direction.


In summary, as California moves further with LCFF and LCAP implementation, most districts need help more than surveillance. LCAP should be used to achieve focus, establishing processes to support action and measure progress. This is a time for concrete action around specific priorities.

It is time to go slow to go fast. The state has a three-year window to get this right—a period that we have called 'California's Golden Opportunity.'

Michael Fullan is professor emeritus, University of Toronto, and an international expert on educational reform. 


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