Michael Kirst

California’s public education system is in the midst of systemwide transformation designed to narrow the achievement gap and elevate low-achieving students to be ready for college and career success. At the core of the change are higher academic standards for all students, regardless of their achievement level, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or family background. These higher standards, coupled with our new school funding and accountability systems, improved assessments and a system-wide focus on continuous improvement, contribute to the underlying goal of ensuring more students are college and career ready when they graduate.

The focus on college and career readiness addresses two fundamental issues. Setting this aspirational goal for every student sends a clear signal to students, parents, educators and stakeholders. The policy choices made by Governor Brown and lawmakers in the last several years help to ensure that traditionally disadvantaged students can and will reach higher achievement levels and be prepared for college coursework. It also ensures that California is adequately preparing students to succeed in the job market when they graduate.

California’s new standards, not only in English and math, but also in science, require students to think critically and analytically and to solve problems. Many, if not most future jobs will require some grounding in science as evidenced by the rapid rate of technological change today.

Assessments also have an important role on the path to college and career readiness. Three years ago, lawmakers and the governor approved a new computer adaptive assessment system so students, parents, schools and the state can better measure the growth of individual students and subgroups toward college readiness.

In the new system, the progress of individual students is being measured from year to year. The new tests are adaptive so that students at very high levels of achievement can show what they know at levels that exceed standards, while underachieving students can be more quickly identified and supported. The Legislature and the governor purposely established an assessment system that helps improve instruction by providing educators quick access to student test scores as well as tools to differentiate progress among various student subgroups.

Money is another important piece of the education system change underway. Lawmakers and the governor were wise to replace an unwieldy and irrational education funding system with one that puts decision-making closer to the classroom and allocates more funding for students with the greatest needs. Thus far, the state has invested $12.8 billion in the new funding formula, which represents 90 percent of the total target through the first three years of implementation. How local school boards, education officials, parents, teachers, students and stakeholders use these dollars to narrow the achievement gaps is a key factor in determining local progress.

Under the new funding formula, we’re seeing more local programs and services to help students with the greatest needs and more involvement of educators, parents and stakeholders in goal-setting and decision-making. Increased funding flexibility and more dollars for high needs students are purposely being directed to college and career readiness programs beginning in the early grades. Schools are adding essential services such as health aides to assist with student wellness and creating programs to reduce suspensions and expulsions. Districts are reporting higher course credit completion, lower dropout rates and higher graduation rates.

While local and statewide change in education is moving in the right direction, narrowing the achievement gap will only be successful if we employ a holistic approach to reduce poverty. The substantial investments that Governor Brown and California’s lawmakers are initiating in social services, such as increasing the minimum wage, expanding health care, establishing an earned income tax credit, and increasing sick and paid family leave, will greatly contribute to the ability of public schools to bring disadvantaged students to higher levels of academic performance.

The extent of change in public education in the last several years is very encouraging. New standards, improved assessments, increased funding, more local control, and greater investments in social programs that influence achievement are all part of California’s new educational landscape. The recent actions of Governor Brown and lawmakers speak volumes about their level of commitment to all students and to our state’s standards. Such unity of purpose is unusual in politics and makes California’s approach to education policy unique in the nation.

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Michael Kirst is President of the California State Board of Education and Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University.

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  1. Don 3 years ago3 years ago

    Totally concur with Ann. What evidence does Mr. Kirst put forth to support the successfulness of any of the wide-ranging “solutions” he claims are working to spur academic achievement? If anything, CCSS has shown to increase not decrease the achievement gap. And anyone who seriously believes an earned income tax credit will result in greater academic achievement must be far removed what drives increased student motivation.

  2. Ann 3 years ago3 years ago

    Obviously this is written by someone who never steps foot on an average school campus. It amounts to balderdash. Please give us evidence of the claims Kirst is making here. Yes we have a new set of academic standards. marginally different than those in place for 15 years and which did not significantly narrow any gaps or lead to broad academic achievement largely due to whining, resistance and even obstinacy by the ed establishment. Anyone … Read More

    Obviously this is written by someone who never steps foot on an average school campus. It amounts to balderdash. Please give us evidence of the claims Kirst is making here. Yes we have a new set of academic standards. marginally different than those in place for 15 years and which did not significantly narrow any gaps or lead to broad academic achievement largely due to whining, resistance and even obstinacy by the ed establishment. Anyone seen the new computer adaptive tests “quickly” identifying the students who desperately need early intervention let alone providing it? Funding ($12.8 billion!) allocated for students? More commonly allocated to increased staff salaries and benefits. Of course Mr. Kirst ends with the argument that the only true solution is to engage in a panaply of Democrat political solutions to “reduce poverty”. So the $12.8 billion and all the “reform” is really a canard and Kirst is simply a backsplapper for Brown and the Democrats who have run California schools into the ground for 40 years.

  3. Bill Younglove 3 years ago3 years ago

    I am wondering if the new CORE survey instrument (which includes so many relevant multiple measures) results will show that we have been having an achievement gap–or, perhaps, a standardized testing scores’ gap?