This article was updated Oct. 14 to include a correction by researchers that increased the amount of money needed to achieve adequate K-12 funding. See the explanation at the end of the story.

Researchers on Monday released a massive collection of education studies timed to inform the next California governor’s and Legislature’s preK-12 agenda.

Among the findings of Getting Down to Facts II:

  • The big achievement gap for California’s low- and middle-income children relative to their peers in other states starts in kindergarten, indicating a need to significantly expand preschool and quality child care.
  • California would have to increase K-12 funding by 38 percent — $25.6 billion — to prepare all children adequately in the state’s academic standards, according to experienced educators and analysts who did the math (** see explanation below). 
  • California has fewer adults in schools, with higher ratios of students to teachers, administrators and counselors than in most states.
  • The lack of effective data systems is preventing schools and districts from determining which programs and practices are effective and which aren’t.
  • California provides fewer general physical health and mental health services than almost any other state.
  • Principals with the least experience are assigned disproportionately to the lowest-achieving schools. Nearly three-quarters of school districts report teacher openings they can’t fill,  with the most severe shortages in special education, math, and science.

Two years in the making, Getting Down to Facts II consists of 36 reports and 19 briefs by more than 100 authors, including many prominent researchers from California. They took deep looks into a range of long-standing and pressing issues: the teacher shortage, inadequate funding, disparities in achievement, charter school oversight and English learner achievement. They examined unmet challenges in special education, school facilities, children’s mental health and other issues. Stanford University and Policy Analysis for California Education or PACE, which is affiliated with Stanford, USC, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Berkeley, coordinated the project.

The research comes at a pivotal time, with the retirement of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Gov. Jerry Brown and longtime Brown confidant Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education. Sweeping changes they initiated have altered the K-12 landscape since the first Getting Down to Facts studies were published in 2007.

In surveys detailed in the studies, educators argued strongly that California should stay committed to the major reforms already in place. These reforms include academic standards in math, English language arts and other subject areas; a funding formula championed by Gov. Brown that targets more funding to low-income students, English learners and other high needs students; and a new school accountability system that views counties and the state as partners with schools and districts, not overseers. Three-quarters of superintendents agreed that the new flexibility under the Local Control Funding Formula has enabled their district to spend in ways that match local needs.

But the funding formula, which remade school funding and shifted decision-making over how state funds are spent, has yet to significantly narrow the wide gaps in achievement among ethnic and racial groups in California. And California students, with the exception of wealthy children, continue to lag a full grade behind the nation, according to a study led by Sean Reardon, an education professor at Stanford University.

There are some hopeful signs. Reardon did find that low-income elementary and middle school students in California have improved in reading slightly faster than low-income students nationwide. And a study led by Rucker Johnson, a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, found a correlation between extra spending under the funding formula on poor children and improvements in their graduation rates and reading scores. That research could not document how the extra money made a difference.

But the studies underscored that the principal goal of the funding formula — to give all students the opportunity and resources to achieve their post-high school ambitions — may be unattainable without not only additional funding but also policy changes, including:

Christopher Edley, president and co-founder of the Opportunity Institute, criticized the state’s hands-off approach to overseeing spending under the Local Control Funding Formula. While state leaders say this is to encourage innovation, “aspirational goals for innovation without adequate guidance may put some of our most vulnerable students at risk of not receiving the resources that they desperately need,” he writes in a paper “Education Equity in California.”

Advocates for building stronger data systems to track student progress and greatly expanding early childhood education programs have made little headway while Brown has been governor. Getting Down to Facts II documents the case to make them the next governor’s priorities.

Reardon’s study of academic achievement of California students found that students in wealthy schools perform as well as  students nationally in affluent schools, but California’s low-income and middle-income schools lag a grade behind the national average for low- and middle-income schools in math and reading. The challenge, based on a comparison of a common kindergarten readiness assessment, is that the achievement gap in California already exists on the first day of school.

“The skills gap found at kindergarten entry suggests that California’s lag in academic achievement arises before children even enter the schoolhouse door,” Reardon wrote.

Reardon’s research doesn’t indicate whether the gap reflects less access to preschool and child care programs or the poorer quality of programs attended by low income children. But seven studies of early childhood education led by Deborah Stipek, professor and former dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, conclude it’s both. They describe multiple challenges in early education in California, among them:

  • High costs to parents: Child care costs consume on average a third of the median income of a single parent.
  • Low pay to workers: 58 percent of child care workers qualify for public assistance.
  • Training requirements for early childhood teachers are among the lowest in the nation.
  • Insufficient regulation: Low-income children comprise 90 percent of children in unlicensed child care programs.

Just addressing one factor in isolation won’t solve the problem, Stipek said in an interview.

Better data

Expanding the use of data and linking data systems from preschool to higher education with state agencies like the Commission on Teacher Credentialing were among the key points in the first Getting Down to Facts reports a decade ago. Getting Down to Facts II not only renews the call but warns that the state’s emphasis on local control will fail without data that can inform teachers, parents and policy makers in Sacramento about what’s working in their districts and others statewide.

The state’s “patchwork” of data systems “do not provide satisfactory answers to the state’s most important policy questions,” authors of a study on data write. The California Department of Education “does not have the capacity to use the data effectively to guide policy decisions,” a summary paper says. Stanford research professor Macke Raymond, who said a failure to get access to data prevented her from updating her study on charter schools, was among the researchers who cited data limitations affecting their own work. The authors of a study on career technical education said that more than half of high schools are offering a career pathway program but it is hard to gauge their impact because of the state’s data limitations.

Adequate spending

A key question addressed by Jesse Levin, a principal research economist with the American Institutes for Research, and his fellow researchers was: How much would it cost California taxpayers to provide schools with the resources needed for students to achieve proficiency on state standards and prepare students to succeed after high school? They turned to two panels of superintendents, principals, teachers, business administrators, specialists on English learners and on students with disabilities.

Their answer is that “adequate” annual funding would cost $91.8 billion. That is $25.6 billion more than the $66.2 billion** spent by the state in 2016-17. If spending increased by that amount, it would raise average per-student spending by about $4,350 per year, to $16,800 per student — a 38 percent increase and more than that in districts with the most low-income students.

Those hoping this new research initiative will guide state policy can point to its predecessor, the first Getting Down to Facts, although it took the election of a new governor, following a huge recession, to see its full impact. One study in 2007 proposed a weighted pupil funding formula, which would allocate state education funds based on the needs of different groups of students. Michael Kirst was one of the co-authors. That idea emerged as a central element in the Local Control Funding Formula approved by the Legislature in 2013, with Brown and Kirst, who Brown appointed president of the State Board of Education, as champions. The funding formula converted money allocated for dozens of highly restrictive state programs into discretionary funding for school districts, which was another recommendation of the first Getting Down to Facts.

Many of the researchers in the current Getting Down to Facts project also contributed to the earlier effort, as did some of the current project’s seven funders: Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, Silver Giving Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Stuart Foundation, Haas, Jr. Fund and Heising-Simons Foundation.

Susanna Loeb, formerly with Stanford University and now the director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and professor of education at Brown University, was the principal investigator for the 2007 Getting Down To Facts report and provided guidance and oversight for the research team of Getting Down to Facts II. Heather Hough, recently named executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education, which is affiliated with Stanford, also coordinated the release.

EdSource receives support from a dozen philanthropic foundations, including several that funded the Getting Down to Facts II initiative. Editorial decision-making and content remain under the sole control of EdSource.

Correction: On Oct. 13, researchers for the American Institutes for Research disclosed that they had discovered an error in their calculations that overstated K-12 spending in 2016-17 by $3.5 billion. As a result, the difference needed to reach adequate spending increased by $546 per student, bringing the total spending needed to achieve adequate funding to $25.6 billion and 38 percent, not $22.1 billion and 32 percent, as initially published. 

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  1. David McAdams 3 months ago3 months ago

    Education is downstream from culture. As one part of the American culture, the Education Industry is a self-aggrandizing monster. We get what we pay for. Only a culture steeped in personal responsibility and commitment to our children's futures before our own feel-good needs can turn the tide. All the education experts in the world cannot design our way around this fundamental condition. This is of course the opposite of the Progressive ethos. By the … Read More

    Education is downstream from culture. As one part of the American culture, the Education Industry is a self-aggrandizing monster. We get what we pay for. Only a culture steeped in personal responsibility and commitment to our children’s futures before our own feel-good needs can turn the tide. All the education experts in the world cannot design our way around this fundamental condition. This is of course the opposite of the Progressive ethos. By the way, facts are really hard to come by, and I admit my comments are opinions. I only wish your experts who compiled these studies could admit the same.

  2. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    Data is great. Data entry is great, data analysis is great. Can't help but point out that now that we have the possibility of IT systems that can collect and report and slice and dice data, we need to give people the time and money to do that, and we haven't. We talk about the tyranny of administrative costs. This is one of them - not just the data but even having computer systems at … Read More

    Data is great. Data entry is great, data analysis is great. Can’t help but point out that now that we have the possibility of IT systems that can collect and report and slice and dice data, we need to give people the time and money to do that, and we haven’t. We talk about the tyranny of administrative costs. This is one of them – not just the data but even having computer systems at all. There’s not been additional funding for this additional work we expect and need. And when school systems try to meet these obligations, it looks like money is going to “faceless administrators” and out of classrooms.

    I really appreciate the report on mental health services, and I think it’s a big piece of the puzzle. So much lost achievement in schools is due to mental health issues, whether PTSD due to adverse childhood events, terrible interpersonal relationships among students, or anxiety and depression. Getting services for these kids is really hard, not just because of paying for it but simple availability. It’s especially hard to get services for kids not eligible for Medicaid (even with private insurance). Having the service available in schools not only means it is available, but it lets kids be seen during the school day, without missing class time for transport. They only have five 4 pm appointments a week, after all, at best.

  3. SD Parent 3 months ago3 months ago

    According to the report, "The lack of effective data systems is preventing schools and districts from determining which programs and practices are effective and which aren’t." But in the absence of knowing what works, how can "the experts" possibly conclude how much would be "adequate" funding "to prepare all children adequately in the state’s academic standards"? Based on what I've seen in San Diego Unified, there is a lot of hand-waving with no … Read More

    According to the report, “The lack of effective data systems is preventing schools and districts from determining which programs and practices are effective and which aren’t.” But in the absence of knowing what works, how can “the experts” possibly conclude how much would be “adequate” funding “to prepare all children adequately in the state’s academic standards”?
    Based on what I’ve seen in San Diego Unified, there is a lot of hand-waving with no concrete explanations that “they know” what it takes to educate every child, and the district’s leadership conclude that “adequate funding” is vastly more than is being spent. But every time more funding arrived to the district, employees (particularly the teachers’ union) pushed for salary increases, which they have gotten several times since the recession–while student programs and services were consolidated and/or cut to balance the budget.
    I know that more funding for education could improve student outcomes if spent appropriately, but absence a statewide system of data collection to establish best practices and authentic accountability (which LCFF and the LCAP do not provide), I have zero confidence that more funding will actually benefit the students under “local control” (which really means the will of the most powerful locally).

    Replies

    • Fred Jones 3 months ago3 months ago

      You are so spot-on! I could've saved the funders of this study so much time/$. The answer from the education interests is always: we need more money. Implicit is the corollary request: ... and don't hold us (truly) accountable for how we spend it. While the LCAP idea was noble and well-intentioned, how many parents, local employers, and general population of taxpayers actually show up to these public meetings where supposedly those plans … Read More

      You are so spot-on! I could’ve saved the funders of this study so much time/$. The answer from the education interests is always: we need more money. Implicit is the corollary request: … and don’t hold us (truly) accountable for how we spend it.

      While the LCAP idea was noble and well-intentioned, how many parents, local employers, and general population of taxpayers actually show up to these public meetings where supposedly those plans are developed? How many of these same local stakeholders understand what eventually ends-up in those plans? So who is holding these local education officials’ feet to the fire as to how they’re spending all of these billions of additional educational LCFF $ spread out all over the 1,000-plus districts (most of which is being gobbled up by underfunded pension obligations)?

      Isn’t it time to get down to the real facts of which interests are dictating the instructional priorities and curricula of each student, and how those priorities and curricula align with (or misalign to) the real needs of our students, our regional/state/national economies, and our fragile Republic?

      Or shall we continue to allow those within the educational establishment to dictate all terms of the discussion? If we do, we all know what they’ll always demand: more $

      How does that help reform or advance our public education system? Let’s just keep funding more of the same … that’s the ticket to success!

  4. Chris Bertelli 3 months ago3 months ago

    Given the gap in time between the first GDTF study and the introduction and passage of a weighted student formula-inspired funding model, I contend that the first study had little, if anything, to do with its passage. Like its predecessor, GDTF II will have a negligible impact either politically or in the policy arena.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 months ago3 months ago

      Mike Kirst has advised Jerry Brown on education policy for more than 40 years. There is no question that Brown's election gave new life to the weighted student formula that Kirst proposed as part of Getting Down to Facts in 2007. What is fair to say is that the recession, not a policy recommendation in 2007, led to the elimination of dozens of categorical programs. Wealthy and middle-income districts that were "losers" under the weighted … Read More

      Mike Kirst has advised Jerry Brown on education policy for more than 40 years. There is no question that Brown’s election gave new life to the weighted student formula that Kirst proposed as part of Getting Down to Facts in 2007. What is fair to say is that the recession, not a policy recommendation in 2007, led to the elimination of dozens of categorical programs. Wealthy and middle-income districts that were “losers” under the weighted pupil formula (now the Local Control Funding Formula) had a Hobson’s choice: accept less funding with flexibility on how to spend it, or keep the status quo, with categorical grants that had already by cut about 20 percent.

      I won’t make a predication on where the new research will lead, other than to say I hope you are wrong.

      • Chris Bertelli 3 months ago3 months ago

        There's no doubt that Kirst's advocacy for weighted student formulas had an impact on Brown's decision to push for LCFF. I think it's reasonable to conclude that their decades-long relationship would have made LCFF possible absent its inclusion in GDTF. Given the long lens through which you are able to view education policy in CA, I think you would have to conclude two things. First, there is nothing in GDTF II that has been broadly unknown … Read More

        There’s no doubt that Kirst’s advocacy for weighted student formulas had an impact on Brown’s decision to push for LCFF. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that their decades-long relationship would have made LCFF possible absent its inclusion in GDTF.

        Given the long lens through which you are able to view education policy in CA, I think you would have to conclude two things. First, there is nothing in GDTF II that has been broadly unknown to politicians and policymakers. Stubborn achievement gaps, appalling lack of data transparency, crippling pension and benefit obligations, etc. have all been publicized before. Second, no significant education policy or reform happens without the serious expenditure of political capital, something Brown was willing to do for LCFF.

        GDTF II follows the time worn tradition of education advocates not named CTA of creating enormous scholarly works with the expectation that people of good will will gather around a table, comb through all of this expensive work and craft some reasonable solutions in response. It has not worked before so there is no reason to believe it will work now.

  5. Fred Jones 3 months ago3 months ago

    A cynical observer might summarize the major findings bullets as follows (and in John's order in this article): 1. Take away kids from bad parents and place them in school directly from labor/delivery wards. 2. "Educrats" can't have have enough taxpayers funds, so more funding is always needed ... for the children. 3. There's not enough educrats making money off the current educational system, so we need more of 'em. 4. There's no real accountability … Read More

    A cynical observer might summarize the major findings bullets as follows (and in John’s order in this article):

    1. Take away kids from bad parents and place them in school directly from labor/delivery wards.

    2. “Educrats” can’t have have enough taxpayers funds, so more funding is always needed … for the children.

    3. There’s not enough educrats making money off the current educational system, so we need more of ’em.

    4. There’s no real accountability for how we’re spending taxpayer money on schools.

    5. California schools aren’t delivering anywhere near the kind of services other states are.

    Hmm. Inspiring and helpful report.