New school year raises teachers’ hopes for positive change

August 28, 2014
Linda Yaron

Linda Yaron

As my colleagues, students, and I look forward to a new school year, I can’t help but feel like there’s something different about this one.

This year is a game changer.

As we transition to new standards, assessments and funding systems in California, this is the year that has the potential to make all the difference in our public schools.

But it’s up to all of us to determine what those changes will look like. It’s critical that teachers work alongside administrators, families and communities to play an active role in how these initiatives are implemented, supported and monitored at all levels.

Here are six things that can make all the difference this year for California schools:

Common Core: Perhaps the single most important change about this school year is the complete rollout of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in classrooms. Training and support for teachers in working with the standards has varied between schools and districts. Yet how teachers implement the standards will have lasting impact on how they are viewed (and valued) by the public.

Assessments: The Smarter Balanced assessments are replacing the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) system and the California Standards Tests (CSTs). As schools roll out the Common Core, California has put a two-year hold on collecting Academic Performance Index (API) scores from students—meaning that schools get a two-year breather from assessing their performance to focus on implementing the Common Core and new assessments. In this transition lies a powerful opportunity for schools to implement processes that will lead to long-term improvements in teaching and learning.

As teachers and students prepare for this year’s assessments, I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on ways to align the standards with our curriculum and tests. We will need to examine our school-wide and classroom feedback mechanisms to analyze what’s working and what isn’t—and to supply professional development training that teachers need to fill any gaps. It’s critical that teachers are given time to collaborate in order to create effective professional development that reflects our unique classrooms and students.

Student spending: The new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) will overhaul the previous funding system, with districts and charters receiving $7,643 per average daily attendance (with funding dropping slightly the more days that students are absent). Schools with high-needs students—including those who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch, English language learners and foster youth—will receive additional funding.

Though California is still one of the lowest-ranked states in per-pupil spending, this change will direct more funds to schools that have the highest need and will help make current funding levels more equitable across districts in the state. The Local Control Funding Formula also mandates that K-3 classroom sizes be no more than 24 students, making California another state to put a priority on early learning.

Schools and districts will have more local control as to how Local Control Funding Formula funds are spent. This is a crucial opportunity for teacher leadership to have a voice in how funds should be spent. California’s full 2014 education budget proposal can be seen here.

Teacher evaluation: As districts grapple with teacher evaluation, teacher leadership needs a stronger voice in determining what, how and when these measurements are used. As the Vergara ruling threatens to upend how teachers are evaluated, teachers must ensure that evaluation systems are used as a means of improving instruction, rather than classifying teachers. The California Teachers Association’s Evaluation Framework may well be adopted by local union chapters as they negotiate and implement evaluation mechanisms for teachers in their districts.

College- and career-ready initiatives: Many programs, including ConnectEd’s Linked Learning, are increasing the capacity for schools to support students with a rigorous and relevant 21st-century curriculum. Nine districts across the state have signed up to implement the program, which connects students with career pathways in fields including the arts, sciences and law. Meanwhile, Career and Technical Education programs are being updated to meet the needs of today’s students as schools face the real challenges of meeting college- and career-ready expectations. The California Career Pathways Trust will also provide $250 million in competitive grants to schools and districts that establish partnerships with businesses and community organizations and develop career pathways programs for students.

In a Teachers for Global Classrooms program a few years ago, the presenters posed a question to teachers: “What century are you preparing your students for?” Most teachers would say that they are working to prepare students for the futures they’re stepping into. With the help of these programs, teachers across the state are providing students with meaningful learning experiences that equip them for college and careers.

Families and communities: Working in partnership with families and communities can truly transform the fabric of our schools and the lives of our students. Under the new Local Control Funding Formula, districts and schools will be nudged to involve parents, students and community members to a greater extent than they have in the past.

Here’s to a powerful and fabulous year ahead.

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Linda Yaron is a National Board Certified English teacher at University High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory and writes a blog for developing teachers called Foundations of Teaching.

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