2014 Policy Agenda: Tectonic Shifts in California’s Education Landscape
The past several years have jolted California’s education system like never before. Seismic shifts in school finance, standards, curriculum, and instruction sent shockwaves through our state’s education policy landscape. Long-familiar landmarks in school finance, accountability, and assessment were replaced by a host of new initiatives, including the Local Control Funding Formula, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, Common Core State Standards, and Next Generation Science Standards.
In the coming years, as they ripple through our education system, these new initiatives have the potential to shift California’s focus more towards equity and close our state’s achievement and opportunity gaps. But we also know that without close attention to equitable implementation, these initiatives could widen existing gaps and create new fissures between our highest need students and their more advantaged peers. In our 2014 policy agenda, we recommend steps that policymakers should take in four core policy areas to ensure that students of color, low-income students, and English learners benefit from the changes in our education landscape. These steps are:
1. Equitable Access to Rigorous Standards, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessments: For students to gain the deeper knowledge embedded in the new standards, districts must support teachers in transforming their instructional practices and must ensure every student is taught using rigorous, high-quality instructional materials. For every child to succeed in our increasingly technological world and succeed on new computer adaptive assessments, district and state leaders must secure the technology for the Smarter Balanced assessments, close the digital divide, and expand access to promising new instructional strategies such as blended learning. In the coming year, education leaders must inform families and other stakeholders in Californias many diverse communities about the new education standards, and the state must evaluate and monitor the implementation process.
2. Adequate and Equitable Funding: As districts and communities begin implementing the Local Control Funding Formula, the state must ensure the new law is not just about local control and flexibility, but alsoand most importantly—about educational justice. The supplemental and concentration grants must be used to increase and improve services for low-income, English learner, and foster youth students at their school sites. Districts must engage parents as true partners in spending decisions and report expenditures down to the school level in a way that is transparent to all stakeholders.
3. Equitable Access to Effective Teachers: California must incentivize its best college graduates, particularly in fields such as science and math, to select teaching as a career. To close gaps in students access to great teachers, we must ensure that districts attract and retain our very best teachers in our highest need schools.
To transform the teaching profession, district and state policies must guarantee that every teacher receives a high-quality, multiple-measure evaluation every year. And state policymakers must eliminate bureaucratic laws such as seniority-based layoffs that ignore teaching effectiveness and disproportionally destabilize high-need schools.
4. Accountability for Student Results: State leaders must streamline our systems of accountability and maintain a focus on strong student results. An accountability system that fragmented, that contains too many indicators, and that drifts away from a focus on student academic achievement will risk confusing stakeholders and fracturing the publics understanding of school success.
Every day, our children come to school with hopes and dreams of college and career success. Their racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity represent our states greatest advantages in our increasingly competitive and globalized economy. More than any generation that preceded them, their future career success hinges on their prospects of attending college and completing a degree.
In 2014, we once again look forward to working to create the policy changes necessary to transform our children’s dreams into realities.
Arun Ramanathan, Ed.D.
To read our 2014 Policy Agenda, click here.