Setting the PACE

How a Research Center Based at USC Rossier, Stanford and UC Davis Is Helping California Forge Its Own Path in Advancing Its Education System
Policy Analysis for California Education
Julie A. Marsh
University of Southern California
Katharine Strunk
Michigan State University
Paul Bruno
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
David N. Plank
Stanford Graduate School of Education
Morgan Polikoff
University of Southern California
Michelle Hall
Chapman University
Rick Miller
CORE Districts
Karen Symms Gallagher
University of Southern California


In May 2016, on the Monday following USC Rossier’s two commencement ceremonies, more than 50 policymakers, philanthropists, and researchers gathered bright and early across the street from the USC campus for a two-day conference. The goal? Hashing out a research agenda that would inform teacher policy in California and beyond.

USC Rossier Professors Julie Marsh and Katharine Strunk hosted the convening under the sponsorship of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Founded in 1983, PACE is based at three academic institutions—the USC Rossier School of Education, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, and the School of Education at University of California, Davis.

By late January 2017, Marsh and Strunk, along with USC Rossier graduate student Paul Bruno, had synthesized the proceedings into a brief that debuted at a one-day PACE seminar in Sacramento that once again addressed the broad landscape of education in California, including the latest research on school funding adequacy, teacher policies, and cross-system alignment.

It might have been one week into the start of an uncertain presidential era, but it was also six years deep into an unprecedented era of synergy among California’s researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. Together—and with the help of an organization like PACE—they are working to sustain a continued focus on improvement for students up and down the state and within each of its 1,100 districts.

“The California academic community is uniquely committed to research that is relevant to policy discussions” and to getting that research into the hands of decision makers, says David Plank, executive director of PACE. “Academic research has a much more direct and powerful impact on education policy in California than in any other state I know of.” Plank previously taught at universities in Pennsylvania and Michigan and is now based at Stanford.

One area of PACE’s focus has been the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which dramatically changed the state’s 40-year approach to K–12 budget allocation. “Up until 2013, California had among the most—if not the most—state-centric education policy in the country,” Plank says. “The legislature controlled all of the money and basically made the rules for a thousand school districts.”

Besides the quality and breadth of research coming out of USC Rossier, the school location provides PACE with another significant advantage, Plank says. “Strategically, Rossier is actually, in some respects, the key to PACE’s future because Southern California is where the kids are and it’s where the issues arise,” he adds, noting that Los Angeles alone has more than one-quarter of the state’s K–12 students.

“As we move into this new LCFF era, the importance of learning from our experiences and disseminating what we learn to other districts, to other educators, is only going to increase,” he says. “We have a really solid foundation with the work Rossier does here, with the work we do at PACE, and I think we’re leading the way into the future.”

This article was originally published in USC Rossier Magazine by the University of Southern California.

Suggested citation Marsh, J. A., Strunk, K., Bruno, P., Plank, D. N., Polikoff, M., Hall, M., Miller, R., & Gallagher, K. S. (2017, March). Setting the PACE: How a research center based at USC Rossier, Stanford, and UC Davis is helping California forge its own path in advancing its education system [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.