With the passage of Proposition 30 and almost nine out of 10 local ballot measures last November, the voters of California gave our schools an almost unprecedented chance to begin rebuilding after years of budget cuts.
With his budget proposal, Governor Brown kept the promises we made to voters and made education funding his top priority. But his proposal does more than fund schools — it stands to change the way we fund them.
And while the State Superintendent of Public Instruction — elected to oversee the education of 6.3 million school kids throughout California — appreciates the governor’s vision and agrees that we have a historic opportunity to redesign our school funding system, we also have to approach the proposed Local Control Funding Formula carefully.
Almost all of us in the education community welcome the opportunity to improve transparency, provide more local control, and direct greater resources to students with the greatest needs. The Legislature should embrace this opportunity, but in a way that clearly articulates the state’s role — one designed to support local improvement.
That means answering the questions that only we — as a state — can ask. What are the purposes and goals for each student and for our public education system as a cohesive whole? What do we expect a high school diploma or GED to mean when students leave public school and enter the world of work, higher education and community life?
Most decisions likely will be left up to the talented and dedicated educators who lead our schools and districts across the state. But these questions are among those that will determine whether — and how — every child in California receives a world-class education that prepares them for the society and economy they will enter when they leave our classrooms.
Consider just one major example: the new Common Core State Standards. This is one of the most exciting — and most challenging — changes to our education system in a generation.
Common Core, a voluntary, state-led effort spanning 45 states, is a practical way to prepare students for the challenges of a constantly changing world by learning, step by step, the real-world skills they need for career and college. The standards keep the best of what we have, but replace outdated ways of learning with a clear focus on the key skills students need in today’s — and tomorrow’s — workplace: the ability to think critically, work cooperatively and solve problems. We consider the Common Core the foundation for what we call remodeling our education system.
And there is a leadership and technical assistance role for the state to play in this effort, even as schools and districts and county offices of education are doing the heavy lifting of implementation. Last year, the state adopted its Common Core implementation plan, and now each district is in the process of developing its own plan based on local needs and resources.
We expect that local implementation plans and strategies will be as diverse as the state itself — and rightfully so. But the standards we expect schools to help their students meet cannot vary from school to school and district to district. That wouldn’t be fair to the students, their families, or the employers who are counting on us to educate their future workforce.
Common Core is only one example; there are countless others. The state has a role to play in keeping districts accountable to student progress, including monitoring for compliance. We are responsible for programs and systems that operate on a regional level, including our incredibly successful career-technical education programs. They graduate students at higher levels than their statewide counterparts in part by answering the question: “When will I ever need this in real life?”
It simply makes good sense for the state to maintain infrastructure that would benefit from economies of scale and is necessary for equity of access, such as technology, including the current high-speed network and associated support systems. The state needs to continue its role in providing education technology for K-12 schools.
We must also protect the state’s investment in human capital: our teachers and school leaders. We oversee credentialing and operate teacher and leader training programs at our institutions of higher education and induction programs in our school districts and county offices of education. Families everywhere deserve to know that their children are being taught by teachers with the same basic skills and training across the state.
We do what we do because we share the same goal: a comprehensive system that fosters high-quality teaching and learning in every classroom. And we all have a role to play: students, teachers, administrators, families and the state itself. We can’t afford to pin too much responsibility on anyone, just as we can’t afford to absolve anyone else of responsibility.
The children our schools are teaching are quite literally the future of California. We are all in this together.
Erin Gabel is the Director of Government Affairs for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and manages the California Department of Education’s state and federal policy agendas.