For years, policy experts and advocates working to fix California’s schools have understood that local school officials need more authority to determine how to best achieve statewide goals for student success. Local school board members are about to get that authority. But will it lead to better results?
If this reform is going to work — and education simply must work to keep the California Dream alive — the governor’s and the Legislature’s actions in the next two months will be critical.
The Local Control Funding Formula proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and enacted by lawmakers this year spells out the state’s goals and the process that each local district must follow in developing its Local Control and Accountability Plan. But for the governor’s vision to result in high-quality public services, the state has an interest in seeing that every school district gets better faster, and this is where it gets challenging: There has to be an effective way to intervene in failing districts
The state’s priorities are spelled out clearly: high-quality teachers, instructional materials and facilities; parental involvement, core content, and metrics of student success.
Each school’s plan must link expenditures to goals, be developed in consultation with principals, teachers, parents and pupils and be public for 72 hours before a public hearing, since transparency builds public trust. It must be adopted at a subsequent meeting, at the same time as the district’s budget. School districts must annually report progress, along with adjustments to the plan.
Buried on page 114 of the new school funding law is a start on upholding standards: “The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence is hereby established.” But the law is short on specifics. The governor has said he wants to see additional legislation when lawmakers return this week.
The title is promising. Research and experience tells us the organization should be a collaborative, not a bureaucracy. It should be peer to peer. And it should be committed to excellence everywhere, not just intervention here and there.
Brown’s pursuit of greater local control — first in public safety and social services and now in K-12 education — can do much more than limit the state’s role in community services. It can create a dynamic where local governments learn from each other and the state accelerates that learning without taking on the role of teacher.
Some school districts aren’t waiting for state direction. Ten CORE school districts — including San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles and Long Beach — are developing their own learning collaborative. They are collecting and sharing data, analysis and conclusions from their failures and successes.
In 2011, CA Fwd. convened a series of meetings with experts and advocates to envision a new relationship among the state and its thousands of local governments. Across the spectrum — education, social services, health care, public safety, economic development — there was general agreement that the state needed to play a new role. Rather than dictating how services are provided or focusing on compliance with minimum standards, the state should support continuous improvement — learning from governments where the vast majority of public employees want to do a better job than the day before.
Lawmakers have the chance to create that dynamic with the public service that is most important to Californians: education. If they get this right, the best educators in the best schools will be teaching their peers. And more children will complete school, stay out of trouble and learn the skills to thrive in the 21st Century.
Jim Mayer is president and CEO of California Forward, a bipartisan project to improve the performance of government in California. Ted Lempert is president of Children Now, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization promoting children’s health and education. Michael Hanson is superintendent of Fresno Unified School District and president of the CORE board of directors.