This paper focuses on implications for equity in the research findings of Getting Down to Facts II (GDFTII). Policymakers changed education funding and governance with the 2014 enactment of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic school funding and accountability legislation. This policy and others intended to tackle low test scores, wide achievement gaps, and other challenges identified in the 2008 research paper series, Getting Down to Facts (Loeb, Bryk, & Hanushek, 2008; Levin et al., 2018).
Creating continuously improving education systems could be the antidote to one-off education reforms that come and go with little to show for the effort. The strategy has been picking up steam in recent years, urged on by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); the California Department of Education; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently announced that it is earmarking 60 percent of its $1.7 billion investment in education during the next five years to support school improvement networks.
California is home to more English learner (EL) students (1.3 million) than any other state, and the state also has the highest proportion of ELs (21%). In total, 38 percent of California’s students enter the school system as English learners. As a group, ELs in California perform well below average based on state test results and high school graduation rates.
California has a keen interest in ensuring the effectiveness of the teachers in its classrooms. The quality of teaching affects student learning and has a lasting impact on students’ success in school and in the labor market. Improving the quality of teaching is a crucial linchpin in California’s efforts to address many of its pressing education challenges.
What impact do California’s publicly-financed preschool programs have on kindergarten readiness and student success? Which schools are moving low-income, Hispanic English learners to full English proficiency most successfully? Are smaller K-3 class sizes a smart investment for California?
Currently, the ability of California education leaders and policymakers to answer such questions is severely limited by weaknesses in the state’s education data systems. Many of those weaknesses could be readily solved.
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1, 2013, represents the first comprehensive change in the state’s education funding system in 40 years. The LCFF eliminates nearly all categorical funding streams, shifts control of most education dollars from the state to local school districts, and empowers districts, through a process of stakeholder engagement, to shape resource allocation goals and priorities to meet local needs.
When California became the second state to authorize charter schools in 1992, the state’s system for authorization, oversight, and renewal of charter schools was in many ways a bold experiment. The concept was new, and the impacts on both student learning and the public school system writ large were unknown.
That first law authorized the creation of 100 charter schools, a modest beginning compared to the charter school sector today. In 2017-18, California had more than 1,200 charter schools serving 620,000 students, about one out of every 10 of the state’s public school students.
Public education in California is a study in contrasts. By many measures, schools are improving and students are doing better. But look deeper and there are significant differences in educational opportunities and, therefore, outcomes based on race, ethnicity, family income, and language. These reports describe the gaps that still exist among schools and among districts in the state. One study provides the first comprehensive comparison of patterns in educational outcomes between California and the rest of the country.
More than 24 million children ages 5 and younger live in the United States, and about one in eight of them—a little over 3 million—lives in California. Compared to the rest of the country, California has about twice as many children ages 5 and under who are first- or second-generation immigrants and live in families in which the adults are not fluent in English. About one in five of all children ages 5 and younger in California live in poverty, and nearly half of California’s children live in households that are at or near the poverty level.
California state leaders are asking new things of school leaders, teachers, and students.
California’s education policy agenda, in particular the near-simultaneous implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), has created challenges and opportunities for the state.
California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which highlights accountability for student success, has identified the progress of special education students as an area of particular concern. Statewide, the LCFF outcome data show that students with disabilities perform at particularly low levels.
California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law in 2013, represents a substantial investment in school districts serving disadvantaged students and a modest relaxation of restrictions on district expenditures.
California is experiencing one of its most severe teacher shortages1 in two decades. Budget cuts and layoffs resulting from the recession contributed to a steep decline in the number of teachers in California, falling from a high of 310,362 teachers in the 2007-08 school year to 283,836 four years later. Recent efforts, including Proposition 30 and the Local Control Funding Formula, which, respectively, raised taxes for public education and transformed the state’s school finance method, have helped to regrow California’s teacher workforce.
California’s 6-million-student public school system includes a vast inventory of publicly owned buildings and property. All of these facilities need to be maintained and some need major renovations to ensure health, safety, and educational suitability. Some communities also need new school buildings to house a growing student population.
There is a common theme around California education, and leadership development is no exception. The state used to have nationally recognized model programs of professional development for principals and superintendents, but many were defunded and dismantled during the recession, when California schools also cut their administrative staffs by 19%. Since then, the number of administrators has rebounded; but in 2016, the latest year data are available, California still ranked 47th out of all states in the number of pupils per administrator.
Children’s physical and mental health play critical roles in their development. Research shows that poor health in childhood adversely affects future success and that children in lower-income households are more likely to suffer health problems. Improvements in child health can lead to higher future economic growth and can improve the upward mobility of children from low-income families.
In 2014, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1469, a law that requires teachers and school districts, along with the state government, to substantially increase their respective contributions to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). The need for higher pension contributions is not a short-term aberration. Recent CalSTRS projections indicate that the higher rates will be required through 2046, assuming that the system continues to operate as it has and actuarial assumptions are met.
Under emerging policy structures in California, the responsibility for school improvement is increasingly placed upon local school districts, with County Offices of Education (COEs) playing a critical support role. In this system, districts are responsible for school improvement, with counties in charge of ensuring quality across districts and providing feedback and support where necessary. Underlying this major policy shift is the idea that local leaders are in the best position to drive real educational improvement and ensure quality across multiple schools and contexts.
Collaboration between K–12 public school districts and higher education, as well as between education institutions, workforce groups, and community organizations, has the potential to improve college and labor market outcomes for individual students and for local communities. However, improvement efforts demand the use of longitudinal data to define the problem, set goals, and monitor progress. California has been behind in building such a longitudinal data system—linked across pre–K through postsecondary sectors—to track individuals’ education and labor market outcomes.
Across California, K–12 public school districts, institutions of higher education, economic development groups, and community organizations are collaborating to improve the educational and labor market outcomes of students. These collaborative efforts demand considerable commitment to a shared purpose as well as attention to the critical practices of data sharing, analysis, and interpretation.