Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

In a document released Wednesday, a spectrum of prominent education organizations, leaders and supporters is calling on Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and the next Legislature to advance an extensive California agenda that includes increased, sustainable K-12 funding, expanded access to data systems and a fuller commitment to early childhood education.

The Alliance for Continuous Improvement laid out an eight-point action plan with specific strategies on a new website it’s calling California Education GPS. Co-chaired by Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, and Wesley Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, the alliance continues the work, through a bigger coalition, of a task force on school improvement that reported to retiring State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson two years ago. The 30 members include leaders of the California School Boards Association, the California Charter Schools Association, the California State PTA, advocacy groups Californians Together, Education Trust-West and Children Now, as well as research nonprofits Policy Analysis for California Education and the Learning Policy Institute.

Some members disagree on issues like the regulation of charter schools. But on next steps to continue the transformational changes of the past decade — new academic standards, a funding system under the Local Control Funding Formula targeting low-income children and English learners and an accountability system that stresses school climate and parent engagement as well as test scores, there is common ground, said Co-Chairman Smith.

The message from the alliance is to “stay committed to what makes sense and don’t dismantle the Local Control Funding Formula, which was the right innovation. The pendulum swing of education policy is a worry,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “Let’s not think Gov. Brown has fixed education. We’re nowhere near where we should be in meeting students’ needs.”

“We are headed in the right direction but there are things we need to address. Invest and build on the structure in place,” said Saa’un Bell, strategy director of the youth-advocacy nonprofit Californians for Justice.

Samantha Tran, senior managing director of Oakland-based Children Now, agreed. On issues of common agreement, like the need to support educators, focus more attention on school climate and build a better data system, “we put a stake in the ground. I’m pleased with where we landed. There’s broad recognition that more work needs to be done,” she said.

The alliance intended the website to serve as a guide for parents and the public that may be unaware of the significant shifts in policy under Gov. Jerry Brown and the State Board of Education that he appointed. To support its recommendations, the website frequently cited findings in the project Getting Down to Facts, three dozen studies that looked at the state of K-12 education and its needs.

Not surprisingly, the alliance led its eight-step “journey to create a high-achieving public education system” with a call for substantially more funding to counter what the research nonprofit WestEd calls a “silent recession” facing districts due to rising teacher pension and special education costs, aging school buildings and, in many districts, declining enrollment. The alliance wants Newsom and the Legislature to set targets to raise per-student funding to the level of the top 10 states in the U.S. — a goal that would cost tens of billions of dollars more per year.

But some of the proposals call for strategies for improvement that wouldn’t necessarily cost a lot of money. They include supporting opportunities to build parent involvement, adding a school climate statewide indicator to the California School Dashboard and supporting initiatives to build a diverse educator workforce.

The alliance’s eight goals are:

  • Increase equitable funding.
  • Provide all students with a broad course of study based on the state standards.
  • Ensure a positive school climate and conditions for all students and families.
  • Address teacher shortages in critical subject areas and regions of the state by expanding efforts to recruit, develop and retain a diverse educator workforce.
  • Expand access to affordable, high-quality early education, especially for low-income families, English learners and students with disabilities.
  • Invest in a comprehensive data system linking pre-K through higher education to help local planning decisions and spotlight promising practices and inequities.
  • Strengthen the emerging statewide system of supports for districts by promoting networks for improvement and providing technical help.
  • Encourage state leaders and state agencies — the governor, Legislature, State Board of Education and the California Department of Education — to evaluate their own budgeting and policy-setting responsibilities and timelines for making progress. In other words to hold themselves, not just others, accountable.

There are dozens of policy recommendations within the eight points — too many and too expensive to put in place at one time. The alliance has not chosen a list of priorities or whether to create one, although members may talk about this when they next meet, Smith said. “We have agreed on a foundation on where we want to go, but, like any strategic plan, the next question is, ‘What is the sequence?’”

“These are high-level strategies, not plug-and-play-into-a-bill recommendations,” said Tran, of Children Now.

The alliance is funded by the CDE Foundation, a Redwood city-based organization affiliated with the California Department of Education.

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  1. Jennifer Bestor 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The California Department of Education recognizes large regional cost differentials when it comes to contracting for child care ... but somehow that got forgotten in LCFF funding. Alameda County Child Care Centers can expect CDE-blessed reimbursements averaging 14% higher than those in Los Angeles; in San Mateo County, 22% more; San Francisco, 29% more. These differentials are actually low, if you review the California Budget & Policy Center's excellent analysis in "Making Ends … Read More

    The California Department of Education recognizes large regional cost differentials when it comes to contracting for child care … but somehow that got forgotten in LCFF funding. Alameda County Child Care Centers can expect CDE-blessed reimbursements averaging 14% higher than those in Los Angeles; in San Mateo County, 22% more; San Francisco, 29% more. These differentials are actually low, if you review the California Budget & Policy Center’s excellent analysis in “Making Ends Meet.”

    Yet the education community stands mutely by. Bay Area schools close, teachers leave, and students struggle. Why does the ed community never mention this factor? Is it just that these districts make such great poster children for the Silent Recession? Especially if they’re not your districts … and particularly when they’re masked by neighbors whose property tax allocation was not decimated by the AB-8 split in 1979. And, anyway, where’s the fun in being a caring liberal if you can’t bewail East Palo Alto’s struggles whilst pointing to Palo Alto’s property tax riches? Where’s the schadenfreude in Oakland’s endless fiscal fiasco without Piedmont’s stratospheric parcel taxes?

    This virtue signaling has become a vise in California — squeezing the life out of the poorest schools in the wealthiest counties. (Yes, the same ten counties that pay enough property and income tax to cover all their own school costs — and then fund every other school in the state: San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz, San Diego, Ventura and Orange.)

    A cost-of-living adjustment for higher-than-average counties, based on the moderate MIT Living Wage index, would cost about $1B. Equity starts there.

  2. Zella Knight 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Interesting that there is no action steps nor acknowledgement to support and enhance structures for the stakeholders, who without them there would be no system, that are the families. More money will not fully address the issues, it is building capacity at all levels, starting with the families. Options are minimal for them with educating, empowering and elevating. You can't do anything with increasing the families' ability to partner … Read More

    Interesting that there is no action steps nor acknowledgement to support and enhance structures for the stakeholders, who without them there would be no system, that are the families. More money will not fully address the issues, it is building capacity at all levels, starting with the families. Options are minimal for them with educating, empowering and elevating. You can’t do anything with increasing the families’ ability to partner from the schools, local districts, the state and federal government. Priority 3 remains an elusive dynamic especially when families are an afterthought rather a forethought.

  3. Thomas Jelen 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I have been doing digging into the whole school reform movement and one thing that popped up on the union side was the prospect of improving the quality of teacher education programs. What would be done to ensure that teachers are being well trained? From what some studies show, teacher licensing programs are effectively a formality and don't teach things like research backed teaching methods, effective discipline and group management methods. \ Also since what is … Read More

    I have been doing digging into the whole school reform movement and one thing that popped up on the union side was the prospect of improving the quality of teacher education programs. What would be done to ensure that teachers are being well trained? From what some studies show, teacher licensing programs are effectively a formality and don’t teach things like research backed teaching methods, effective discipline and group management methods. \
    Also since what is a good teacher is always asked, is there a statewide standard for good practices for K-12 teachers? I am having a hard time finding that out. If not, the State Department of Education needs to come up with how to determine what constitutes a good teacher so we know what to train for and who is good at their job. Since just judging teachers by their classes’ standardized tests isn’t a good metric, given how many confounding variables there are like family structure, poverty and the resources of the school district.

    We also should think of ways to go beyond the traditional model of schools, but that is a far bigger problem and just making sure we have well trained teachers that know what it means to be good is the best place to start.

  4. Cathy 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    When referencing equitable K-12 funding, does this include investing more in K-6 grade students’ education experience? This population has a natural curiosity and eagerness to learn. They are absorbing everything around them. Keeping them fully engaged will improve testing scores and attendance. Equally investing in the K-6 learning experience would carry forward into middle school, high school and higher learning success rates.

  5. Sarah Feinman 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I think with better data systems we can expect the standards to rise, yet without far more funding I still think CA schools will suffer slowly.

  6. el 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    That Silent Recession paper is really good. Although California’s education funding formula provides revenues that grow incrementally each year, these increases are not based on the actual growth in the costs of operating a school. And please note, this has been true for well more than a decade. It's not necessarily about people being greedy or wasteful or taking more than their share, but about the formulas that are convenient to use being completely disconnected to any … Read More

    That Silent Recession paper is really good.

    Although California’s education funding formula provides revenues that grow incrementally each year, these increases are not based on the actual growth in the costs of operating a school.

    And please note, this has been true for well more than a decade. It’s not necessarily about people being greedy or wasteful or taking more than their share, but about the formulas that are convenient to use being completely disconnected to any school or labor reality, as well as higher standards and expectations for the services provided. Inflation is adjusted based on a standardized basket of goods that schools don’t buy.

    – The increasing cost of pensions is a big deal, and unfunded
    – The high and increasing cost of health care is a big deal
    – The high cost of housing and a strong labor market pushes labor costs higher
    – Minimum wage increases were not funded
    – Special Education is not funded – that money should probably come from the state and follow the child, especially for the high-cost students
    – Facilities without air conditioning, without networking, without adequate electrical support, and without compliance to the latest accessibility rules
    – The need for dedicated IT staff at most school sites

    I hate to suggest business books when trying to talk about school finance, because the aims are so very different, but I recently appreciated reading “The Good Jobs Strategy” by Zeynep Ton of MIT, case studies of several low cost retailers who pay well above minimum wage and are extremely successful doing so. One interesting thing I took away from it was the importance of not running your people pedal-to-the-metal all the time, and specifically that the cost of understaffing your organization is real even if it’s not as obvious as the cost of overstaffing. Giving people time to stop and think about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how to do it better can have significant productivity gains, as well as reducing expensive employee turnover.