Consistent with the goal of shifting power over education decisions away from Sacramento, the Local Control Funding Formula law creates a new agency to work with, not dictate to, local districts on how to meet their improvement goals. In the first step toward launching the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, the Legislature this month determined that a teacher and two superintendents will form the majority on its governing board.
The passage of a bill designating the makeup of the five-member board should enable the agency to be in place by early next year, said Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff to Speaker of the Assembly John Perez. The group’s purpose is to “advise and assist” school districts and charter schools in achieving the goals of their annual accountability plans that the school funding law requires. The collaborative is also charged with helping to improve the quality of teaching and leadership in a district or school.
Perez will name a teacher as one of the five board members. The other four members will be Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson or whoever he designates, State Board of Education President Michael Kirst or his designee, a county superintendent named by the Senate Rules Committee and a district superintendent named by Gov. Jerry Brown. The board, in turn, will select the experts who will work with schools or districts
to address challenges that data collected for the accountability plans will reveal. The experts could be nonprofit agencies, individual consultants, or county or state teams with subject knowledge or expertise in working with English learners or children with disabilities; the law doesn’t specify.
Both the funding law passed in June and the additional language and technical fixes to it in Senate Bill 97 are skimpy on details on how the collaborative would operate. But as the name implies, the collaborative is intended to be a kinder and gentler overseer of the funding law than the rigid enforcer that the federal government has played with “failing schools” under the No Child Left Behind law and the state Department of Education has assumed with its past state intervention programs.
“The collaborative is intended to be a helping hand, not a slap in the face. It should be something districts welcome, not something they fear, and should be available to districts that are successful as well as those that are struggling,” Simpson said in an email.
The funding law spells out eight priority areas that districts should pay attention to and measure in their yearly accountability plans, although the law doesn’t spell out all of the ways to do so. The priorities cover quantifiable areas of student achievement, course access and the implementation of the Common Core standards, but also harder-to-measure school climate and student engagement.
The State Board will decide by October 2015 which metrics will be used to determine if districts and schools need low-level support or stronger interventions.
Districts could request the collaborative’s help, or a county office and the state superintendent might assign the collaborative based on a district’s failure to show improvement in priority areas, especially for high-needs students receiving extra money under the formula. The state superintendent would consult with the collaborative before deciding if stronger interventions, like appointing a trustee to run a district, is needed.
The focus, though, will be on voluntary assistance to make a district successful, Simpson said. “I hope that demand exceeds supply, with districts asking themselves, ‘What do we need to help us?’”
The law doesn’t give an operational timeline or appropriate more than the initial $10 million budget covering assistance that the collaborative will provide, but Simpson expects that will be an annual expenditure.
John Fensterwald covers state education policy. Contact him and sign up for his tweets @jfenster.