The State Board of Education took a small step Thursday toward launching a new agency that will have a pivotal role in seeing that districts and schools meet achievement targets and other goals under the Local Control Funding Formula.

That agency is the California Collaborative for Education Excellence, with the emphasis on collaboration. In writing the agency into the 2013 law creating the funding formula and requiring that districts write three-year accountability plans, legislators specified that its purpose is to “advise and assist,” not dictate and prescribe, ways for districts and charter schools to improve. In keeping with the shift to local control, the collaborative is intended to diverge  from the top-down approach that Washington and Sacramento took under the federal No Child Left Behind law and previous state school improvement programs.

“It marks an outwardly visible shift to capacity building rather than sanction and intervention alone,” Christine Swenson, director of the Local Agency Systems Support Division for the state education department, told the board.

The collaborative is not expected to be fully operational until the 2015-16 school year, and four of the five members of the governing board, which will make all policy decisions, have yet to be appointed. But last week, the collaborative selected a fiscal agent to set up shop, pay future bills and, at the board’s direction, contract with consultants, high-performing districts and others with records of improving achievement. The state board chose the Riverside County Office of Education, one of nine county offices that had sought the contract.

Even though the Legislature budgeted $10 million for the agency this year, the collaborative really isn’t behind schedule, because the State Board of Education is still 16 months from creating the criteria for deciding when the collaborative should step in to help troubled districts. The funding law spells out eight priorities, from student achievement to parent engagement, that districts must address in their Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs. It further calls for the collaborative to assist districts that fail to meet their targets for improvement in at least one of the priority areas for three out of four years. But the state board must determine which priorities are most important, which measurements count and what constitutes failure – a complex task.

Intervening in failing districts is only one of the collaborative’s charges. County offices of education, which review LCAPs, can ask the collaborative to help a district that is having trouble meeting recommendations for improvement but not yet reached the point of failure. Or, ideally, a district or charter school can request the collaborative’s help on its own when it needs assistance in specific areas, like improving the college-going rate of English learners. The Legislature didn’t specify how the collaborative should use its $10 million budget, so the governing board must decide the rules for receiving state-funded assistance, Swenson said.

The five-member governing board will include:

  • A member designated by the president of the State Board of Education;
  • A member designated by the state superintendent of public instruction;
  • A county superintendent nominated by the president pro tem of the state Senate;
  • A district superintendent nominated by the governor;
  • A teacher nominated by the speaker of the state Assembly.

Thus far, only the teacher has been named –  Tim Sbranti, a teacher at Dublin High School and the mayor of Dublin, who is also running for the Legislature.

A bill now moving through the Legislature without opposition so far, AB 2408, by Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, would enlarge the board to seven members, with two more appointees by the governor: a representative of charter schools and a parent of a public school student.

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