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California education issues to watch in 2023 — and predictions of what might happen

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2022 turned out, as viewers of “The Crown” would say, annus horribilis. A dreadful year. How could so many things run off the rails?

Oh, you thought I was talking about the state of California education. I’m referring to my predictions for 2022. What an embarrassment.

I predicted an initiative for a voucherlike education savings account would get 40% of votes in the November election. It never made the ballot.

I predicted chronic absenteeism would rise to 20% in 2021-22 and that Gov. Gavin Newsom would direct money and create an approach to deal with it. It turned out to be 30%, and no, he didn’t, though he sprinkled one-time money on just about everything else.

I got a few things right, too, though they were, frankly, pretty safe bets.  I predicted that Newsom would agree either to float new school construction bonds or put facilities money in the budget. He did the latter. I predicted he’d provide more than a cost of living adjustment for the Local Control Funding Formula, which provides districts’ operating money. He delivered in spades with an extra record $4.3 billion.

Unbowed, I look to 2023. It won’t be an easy year — that’s a cinch to predict. The magnetometer of school board tensions is amping up — over pay negotiations, the politics of race and gender, staff shortages. There is pressure to make good on once-in-a-generation possibilities — for transitional kindergarten, community schools, expanded hours of learning — without the wherewithal, in many districts, to rise to the challenge.

So grab your scorecard, make your predictions on a scale of 1 (no chance) to 5 (sure thing), put them in a drawer and haul them out in a year. My bets are in fensters, a cryptocurrency Sam Bankman-Fried once rated as a “must buy.”

State funding

Let’s start with Proposition 98, the formula setting TK-12’s and community colleges’ share of the state general fund and eternal source of opportunities and arguments. Two straight years have brought a deluge of state revenue, but in 2023-24, the state will start draining the aquifer. Even if California dodges an outright recession, income from a progressive income tax will fall; the Legislative Analyst’s Office is predicting a Proposition 98 deficit of several billion dollars. Newsom will up the estimate in the budget he’ll announce next week. How will that play out?

COLA: With inflation still high, school districts will say their No. 1 priority is a full cost-of-living adjustment, likely 8%, for the funding formula. Legislative leaders will swear to it and Newsom will commit. Likelihood it will happen in the June budget

Then what? If the budget still won’t balance, after siphoning from the Proposition 98 rainy-day reservoir, Newsom could take back some of the uncommitted $13 billion in one-time funding from the 2022-23 budget. I’ll bet his target will be the $3.9 billion arts, music and instructional materials discretionary block grant (discretionary as in you can ignore arts and music and spend it however you want).

Likelihood he and legislators will have to claw back some one-time money from this year:  

Likelihood arts, music and instructional materials will take the hit: 

No new programs exceptTo superintendents’ cheers, Newsom will pledge there’s no money for new programs, at least the ones that legislators pass. He’ll have a couple of his own, though.

His top priority: Follow through on a promise he made to Assemblymember Akilah Weber, D-San Diego, last fall to add ongoing funding to the Local Control Funding Formula for Black students, persistently the lowest-performing student group not already designated for extra money. Fewer than 1 in 6 Black students met standards in math, compared with one-third of all students, in the latest Smarter Balanced results.

Last fall, Weber pulled her bill for extra funding, which would have passed, with an understanding that she and the administration would agree on a plan to ensure the money is used effectively.

Likelihood Newsom will add $500 million per year for this purpose, with requirements that districts spell out how this money will make a difference:  

Tutoring: Research shows that face-to-face tutoring of individuals or small groups is the most effective strategy for learning recovery. But many districts don’t know where to turn for it. Last year, the state waded into tutoring and mentoring through College Corps, in which about 1,500 community college, CSU and UC students can earn $10,000 in tuition and housing stipends by tutoring 15 hours a week. It’s a good start that the state could sharpen by focusing on early-grade reading and middle school math. Candidates in teacher credentialing programs could be enlisted; Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy in Mountain View, which has woven tutoring into his online learning platform, has offered to help.

Newsom should take him up on it. Expanding College Corps tutoring would be a rounding error in a $100 billion TK-12 budget. But will he?

Likelihood Newsom will scale up College Corps tutoring:  

School construction

This year’s state budget applied $1.7 billion of the general fund surplus to shore up school construction, but state matching funding from Proposition 51, passed in 2016, will be exhausted this year. With a deficit, not a surplus this year, the logical option is to put a school construction bond on the March 2024 ballot. The big question is whether CSU and UC will horn in, creating a bigger bond.

 Likelihood that the Legislature, with Newsom’s consent, will put a school bond on the 2024 ballot: 

Tensions with labor

Districts have stockpiled their own surpluses, helped by an 8% COLA in consecutive years. Teachers, whose salaries are the biggest item in a district budget, are demanding big multiyear raises after years of pandemic stress. But districts are experiencing rising costs; many anticipate declining enrollments, and they want to avoid layoffs of the staff they hired with soon-to-expire state and federal Covid relief.

 Likelihood that teachers unions in at least a half-dozen sizable school districts (over 20,000 students) will go out on strike over the next calendar year:  

Academic rebound?

It will take several years for students to work through the impact of Covid on learning. There’s optimism that scores on the Smarter Balanced math and English language arts tests, which plummeted in 2022, will improve in 2023.

But probably not for this year’s third graders, taking their first state test. They were in kindergarten when Covid struck in March 2020 and struggled with Zoom as first graders and with masks in second grade — big handicaps for learning reading.

Only 42% of last year’s third graders were at grade level. The scores of this year’s third graders could be shocking.

 Likelihood that the percentage of third graders meeting standards in English language arts falls below 38% overall, under 20% for Black students and under 25% for Latino students:  

Early literacy

Newsom and the Legislature have committed massive resources to establish transitional kindergarten, fund literacy coaches in poor schools and create teacher residencies and inducements to enter teaching. But abysmal reading attainment by third grade underscores the state’s negligence in early literacy. It collects no data on reading development until Smarter Balanced tests at the end of third grade. Under the mantra of local control, California has remained on the sidelines even as two dozen states have required research-based textbooks and instructional methods consistent with the “science of reading.” Advocates are clamoring for the state board and the California Department of Education to act. Here are potential areas:

One of several states that don’t mandate screening for dyslexia, California is funding UC San Francisco to develop a sophisticated screening tool, called Multitudes, to detect dyslexia and other reading challenges.

Will California mandate universal screening for dyslexia this year?  

Will it promise districts funding for training and deploying Multitudes?  

Will the Education Department choose a county office to train literacy coaches that commits in writing to instruct coaches in the science of reading?  

The State Board of Education doesn’t include a section on early literacy in districts’ and charter schools’ Local Control and Accountability Plans, their annual planning document.

Likelihood that it will start requiring them to report in their LCAPs how they plan to improve reading instruction:  

Math curriculum

The State Board of Education was expected to adopt a new guide for teaching math last spring. But an onslaught of letters pro and con, plus extensive comments — Stanford math professor Brian Conrad alone created a website for his doctorate-length critique – led the state board to send it back for a third extensive revision. The California Mathematics Council and many teachers praised its focus on inclusive practices and its theme of “big ideas” that unify math concepts. Among criticisms, UC and CSU professors said it misconstrued data science and favored it over traditional courses for majors in science, technology, engineering and math. The California Department of Education and consultants at WestEd’s Regional Center have been slogging through the document and will return by summer with the final draft.

Likelihood that the final document includes these changes: It will be a third shorter and include K-8 “big ideas” minus strategies not backed by research. It will reiterate it’s fine to offer algebra to middle school students who are ready for it. It will eliminate the chapter on data science while encouraging UC and CSU to develop Algebra II courses for non-STEM majors. (Partial credit for some right answers)

Community college enrollment

Enrollment at California’s community colleges has cratered since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, declining by 18%, to 1.8 million, the lowest level in 30 years.  Enrollment was down again in 2022, but many college presidents across the state say they hit bottom this fall, and some even report a small increase in students. In 2023, that trend will continue as colleges keep providing maximum flexibility by offering more online classes — an attractive option for many community college students who often balance classes with work or taking care of family members. They’re also counting on more high school students taking college courses to boost numbers.

It will take years for the college system to fully rebound from losing about 300,000 students, but a small uptick in enrollment in 2023 will show that the system is starting to recover.

Likelihood of a community college enrollment increase of 5%:  

CSU pay raises

The 11,000 unionized teaching and graduate assistants on California State University’s 23 campuses watched intensely as their counterparts at the University of California won major wage concessions last month after a six-week strike. The question this spring, as they begin their negotiations is, will they be next?

Other employees at the nation’s largest university system will point to data saying they’re underpaid, too. A study last year of nonfaculty staff recommended improved compensation at a price of nearly $900 million over a decade. This spring, another study is expected to say that CSU faculty are underpaid relative to professors elsewhere.

The current state budget increased funding for CSU by 10%, to $5 billion. State revenues for 2023-24 are expected to decline. What will increase will be tension.

Likelihood that Newsom and the Legislature will largely reject funding for pay increases that CSU interim Chancellor Jolene Koester requests: 

Developments to watch

Tool for ejecting disrupters: With the enactment of Senate Bill 1100, school boards and other government bodies will have clearer authority, under revisions to the Brown Act, to remove people who disrupt, impede or make threats at public meetings. The new law responds to post-pandemic incivility. Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, the law’s author, pointed to Los Gatos, where QAnon followers disrupted the Town Council and attacked the mayor’s son with racist and anti-LGBT epithets over diversity, equity and inclusion policies. 

School boards will likely weigh carefully when speech crosses a line, and whether a forcible eviction could escalate tensions.

Community schools: This is the year for districts to lay out plans to transition hundreds of schools to community schools, bustling with health services, parent centers and multigenerational activities. The Legislature has funded $4 billion to get them going.

At issue is who makes decisions. Community schools work well when local teachers feel empowered. The teachers unions in West Contra Costa Unified and other districts want to include community school policies in their bargaining contracts because they affect working conditions. But parents, too, are supposed to be active partners in community schools. It’s hard to imagine they will be if key actions are decided without them in the room.

Districts are fighting the move; talks have deadlocked in West Contra Costa. Stay tuned. The outcome could determine whether the initiative will truly be transformative or just another social service program.

EdSource higher education reporters Michael Burke and Ashley A. Smith contributed information for the predictions. 

Thanks for reading the column. One more toast to 2023!

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  1. Maya K 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Not a prediction but a hope. I hope finally SFUSD is exposed for all the misrepresentations they made over the years about the success of their sequence. There was not a 40% repeat or failure rate in Algebra 1 when the class of 2018 took it in 8th grade. They removed an exit exam after they delayed a sequence, but even then 40% was not repeating, 27.5% was, even though only 4% failed. The … Read More

    Not a prediction but a hope.

    I hope finally SFUSD is exposed for all the misrepresentations they made over the years about the success of their sequence. There was not a 40% repeat or failure rate in Algebra 1 when the class of 2018 took it in 8th grade. They removed an exit exam after they delayed a sequence, but even then 40% was not repeating, 27.5% was, even though only 4% failed.

    The district changed their tune subtly in the New Yorker now saying the 40% is throughout the class of 2018 high school career. Still refusing to show their calculations. Because it is nonsense. I sent them an email about it and have yet to hear back. This is what I said:

    1. CSTs, the exit exam that was used previous years, were discontinued with the advent of Common Core and SBACs. So what exit exam was administered?

    2. Common Core Sequence change was the Fall of 2014. The class of 2018 students repeating Algebra 1 in 9th grade were taking CCSS Algebra 1. The rest were taking CCSS Geometry 1

    3. The ed code was modified to stop this practice of forcing students to repeat a class they already passed.

    4. The class of 2018 was the first who were not repeating Algebra 1 endlessly while the Class of 2019 was the first to not have Algebra 1 in 8th grade and did not repeat even once (if they got a D or above).

    I also hope people will understand that SFUSD has been making up their own definition of what advanced math is and counting it to make it seem advanced math increased when it did not. Their compression class that they call algebra 2 + precalculus is categorized as Algebra 2 by UC a-g. In other words it doesn’t meet the precalculus standards.

    The district has caused a lot of damage nationwide with these false claims. Oregon had an article the other day how they were going to slow down implementing what SF has implemented for 8.5 years. Even as the reporter repeated some of the false successes.

    SFUSD math is an untold story which I really really hope in the next year gets some oxygen. Their victory lap did after all. I hope the story how it was built on a house of cards which almost made it in to math framework will be told someday too.

  2. Seena Hawley 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I wonder what the long-term (5-7 years out) Impacts of Statewide Funding for CA Dolly Parton's Imagination Library Affiliates thru the State Librarians office, beginning in mid-2023, will be. 1) Will more county agencies - ie, First 5s and Depts of Ed -- opt to run Imagination Library Programs? 2) will Early Literacy competencies improve, and be reflected in higher "Kindergarten Readiness" scores? 3) will 3rd grade reading test scores eventually improve, and will rates … Read More

    I wonder what the long-term (5-7 years out) Impacts of Statewide Funding for CA Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Affiliates thru the State Librarians office, beginning in mid-2023, will be. 1) Will more county agencies – ie, First 5s and Depts of Ed — opt to run Imagination Library Programs? 2) will Early Literacy competencies improve, and be reflected in higher “Kindergarten Readiness” scores? 3) will 3rd grade reading test scores eventually improve, and will rates of improvement by demographic groupings vary?

    More immediately, I would love a study that looks at whether counties with Imagination Library Programs running since at least 2016 had less of drop in 3rd grade reading scores than non-Imagination Library served counties. Or could that parsed out from existing data . . . hmm.

  3. Brenda Lebsack - Teacher 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Question: In the EdCal Magazine in June 2020 put out by the Association of Calif School Administrators (ACSA) State Supt, Tony Thurmond, was quoted saying, "Public education can play an important role in better exploring the connection between issues of educational equity and implicit bias in the classroom and the systemic racism that persists throughout society.. for example, schools that serve communities of color are of the most under-resourced." However, EdSource article states that … Read More

    Question: In the EdCal Magazine in June 2020 put out by the Association of Calif School Administrators (ACSA) State Supt, Tony Thurmond, was quoted saying, “Public education can play an important role in better exploring the connection between issues of educational equity and implicit bias in the classroom and the systemic racism that persists throughout society.. for example, schools that serve communities of color are of the most under-resourced.”

    However, EdSource article states that Calif ranks as the 9th most equitably funded state, 1 percentage shy of an A, as measured by how much money high-poverty districts receive relative to low-poverty districts. By the law center’s calculation, Calif provided the poorest districts with $2,500 per student more than it funded wealthy districts and that Calif is one of the 19 states that provide the highest poverty districts at least 5% more funding than the lowest poverty districts.

    Bottom line: Either Tony Thurmond is not informed, which would be very sad considering his position of influence, or he is intentionally pushing a false narrative. Of course, this would not be the first time he has done this, since I heard him say in the April 2022 CTA Leadership Conference that Critical Race Theory is only taught in higher education, not in K-12, when in reality, the NEA passed a business item in 2021, endorsing Critical Race Theory for grades K-12.

    Next Question: EdSource, why don’t you call these contradictions (lies) out, when made by top educational leaders? These erroneous comments, not based in fact, are unacceptable, especially since they are often emotionally charged and judgmental. They mislead people and this should not be tolerated, especially when there are systems in place of checks and balance to help prevent or correct this.

    Prime example is when EdSource pushed back on the Calif Dept of Ed to demand disclosure of test scores, when the CDE refused. EdSource won that battle and served the interest of the taxpayers and state constituents. Bravo! Let’s see more of that!

  4. Carol Fleisig 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Most of the teachers I know, and I, a retired teacher, believe that math for elementary school should emphasize basic skills. Students are not given timed tests for addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Elementary must build a foundation of strong basic skills upon which higher concepts can be developed. Sometimes, academics forget we are dealing with young children. Don't lump us in the "back to the basics" old fogies. Perhaps … Read More

    Most of the teachers I know, and I, a retired teacher, believe that math for elementary school should emphasize basic skills. Students are not given timed tests for addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Elementary must build a foundation of strong basic skills upon which higher concepts can be developed. Sometimes, academics forget we are dealing with young children. Don’t lump us in the “back to the basics” old fogies. Perhaps we know real children in real school settings. Perhaps we should be listened to.

  5. Jay 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    What are the odds that school districts receive a full COLA and continue to increase their budget reserves over spending the money at the classroom level? Administrative level spending should be excluded and any employee who participates in 51% of their daily tasks in support of administrative work over in class instruction should be categorized accordingly.

    Replies

    • el 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      One thing to consider is that each of these special funds - and they have proliferated! - that come with restrictions on how the money can be spent, all kinds of formulas to ensure "maintenance of effort" over some previous time rather than simply stating a baseline of what service is expected in that area (for example, the new arts money), all of this is generating a huge number of new reports and forms that … Read More

      One thing to consider is that each of these special funds – and they have proliferated! – that come with restrictions on how the money can be spent, all kinds of formulas to ensure “maintenance of effort” over some previous time rather than simply stating a baseline of what service is expected in that area (for example, the new arts money), all of this is generating a huge number of new reports and forms that must be filled out with substantial data entry, thought, and justification. (I’m not even sure the reports are particularly being read.) This isn’t free – this is requiring substantial administration time to fill out the forms and to use creative problem-solving to purpose the money to what the kids and teachers actually need.

      The original LCFF plan was to eliminate categoricals and give more flexibility – that has been eaten away dramatically. Worse, each little pot of money also comes with its own timelines, often requiring districts to spend it before the money arrives… at some unknown future date. Juggling cash flow so the bills are paid is another administrative activity and cost… why are we levying this on schools?

      (The worst example: bond money for facilities is typically a match, it’s not guaranteed to come at all, and best case it will come maybe 3 years after you’ve spent your initial money and closed your project.)

      The job of administrative staff is to remove obstacles so the teachers and school leaders can just do their jobs. The legislature, in its infinite wisdom, seems to take little notice of how they create the obligations and the true cost of seemingly well meant phases like “maintenance of effort” or the challenges of spending highly restricted one time money while at the same time wondering if you will have to lay off staff next year.

  6. Luis 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Improvement? I guess much can be expected from middle class eduwonks, but what about the majority? Even before the pandemic poor and black and brown students were suffering through dismal schools. Your predictions do not even mention families trapped in dangerous (far more now) and failing schools. Schools are much more violent, teachers are much more focused on political battles than achievement gaps, and black and brown students' futures are being killed in the … Read More

    Improvement? I guess much can be expected from middle class eduwonks, but what about the majority? Even before the pandemic poor and black and brown students were suffering through dismal schools. Your predictions do not even mention families trapped in dangerous (far more now) and failing schools.

    Schools are much more violent, teachers are much more focused on political battles than achievement gaps, and black and brown students’ futures are being killed in the long run. Typical of progressive CA – No real change for the poor and color! We need school choice and the fact that it is no longer discussed tells black and browns….you better recognize and organize- cause they do not care!