Californians went to the polls this week to elect a new governor, superintendent of public instruction and members of the Legislature. Together they will have the responsibility to build upon California’s efforts in recent years to strengthen state accountability, support local control and provide enhanced funding for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We would like to offer a brief education improvement agenda for their consideration.
Since the state provides the lion’s share of education funding for K-12 schools, Sacramento policymakers have a major responsibility to expand financial support as well as provide more equitable state funding. However, there are additional challenges we need to address in 2019 that won’t break the bank but require some redesign and modest reallocation of state and local education resources. These initiatives are based upon fifty years of education research and experience of what works. The following three areas of emphasis can make a difference in learning outcomes for California students:
Alignment of instructional resources to clear learning expectations: In many school districts we need greater clarity about what students should know and do at each grade level and for each subject. And research has pointed to the critical need for a curriculum aligned to these learning standards. While there can be variation in how teachers deliver the desired content and learning experiences, the curriculum and instructional materials (textbooks, technology, reading books, ancillary materials) need to be aligned. Unfortunately, too often they are not. State identification of district misalignment ought to be high on our radar screen this school year with the California Department of Education and county offices of education working with local districts in need of better standards and curriculum alignment.
Teacher instructional support: At all levels of experience, teachers need support. Teachers seeking initial certification need robust and extensive clinical opportunities modeled on highly effective medical school residencies, which emphasize clinical work supervised by outstanding practitioners. In addition, all classroom teachers need to be able to take better advantage of student achievement data delivered in a timely manner during and not at the end of the school year and teachers must be provided time for collaboration with colleagues on best instructional strategies. Finally, a redesign of traditional teacher professional development built around classroom observation and tied to daily practice rather than outside workshops and university classes is essential.
Increased support for struggling students: With large and very diverse classrooms, it is often extremely difficult for a teacher to spend the time necessary to help struggling students without taking away from other students. Resources, including tutors, must be brought to bear when teachers ask for assistance or the data indicate help is needed. In addition, providing more learning opportunities for disadvantaged students, especially during summer months, is crucial as research indicates that achievement gains are often lost for these students when they experience extended time away from school. Lastly, research clearly demonstrates that quality preschool can play a significant role in closing the achievement gap for poor children. California has many outstanding preschool and child care programs but, unfortunately, many poor communities do not have such programs and sometimes they are not family friendly (location, transportation, hours, etc.). Ensuring that such programs exist in all poor California neighborhoods ought to be an important state initiative.
Debates concerning immigration, income inequality and political polarization dominate state and national issues today. But the solution to these contentious matters rests not just in Washington, D.C. but in Sacramento and in local communities throughout our state. And education will play a vital role in whether we succeed in responding to these challenges. Both of us are former classroom teachers who have also spent many years as state education policymakers. We have seen progress on many education fronts over the decades but curriculum alignment, teacher instruction support and a laser focus on the needs of disadvantaged students ought to be top education priorities for California in 2019.
Gary K. Hart, a Democrat, was secretary of education under Gov. Gray Davis from 1999-2000. Glen Thomas, a Republican, was secretary of education under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2009-2010.
The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the authors. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.