Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education
Accountability for Learner Outcomes and Institutional Performance
Authority over the operations of California's PreK-12 public education system at large, and ultimate responsibility for the delivery of education to California's PreK-12 public education students in particular, should both reside within the Office of the Governor. The Office of the Governor should have authority to implement the following functions, as assigned to its various sub-entities by the Legislature:
- Apportion resources to schools to support teaching and learning, pursuant to statutory and budgetary direction;
- Manage the state financial accountability program and school district fiscal audit reviews;
- Establish education standards and other learning expectations for students and a process for periodic review and modification of those standards and expectations;
- Adopt K-8 textbooks (a function constitutionally assigned to the State Board of Education);
- Establish developmentally appropriate program and operating standards for early childhood education and require continuity between the academic guidelines, standards and curricula for preschool and kindergarten;
- Administer school improvement programs; and
- Promote an understanding of effective uses of data to improve student learning.
The committee's working group on Governance gave considerable attention to the linkage between the K-12 management function, currently residing in the Department of Education - which is under the direction of an independently elected Superintendent of Public Instruction - and the Office of the Governor. We view this linkage as essential, since the Department of Education is responsible for so many crucial education administrative functions. The absence of a clear administrative structure has led to confusion and mixed messages communicated to county offices of education and local school boards, particularly when administrative functions are not implemented satisfactorily. Assurance of equitable opportunities for learning and achievement of all students requires that lines of accountability lead clearly to the Governor. To further clarify structures, roles, and responsibilities, we also recommend:
The Governor should appoint a cabinet-level Chief Education Officer, to carry out, on behalf of the Governor, all state-level operations, management, and programmatic functions, and to serve as the Director of the Department of Education.
The Governor should continue to appoint, with the consent of the State Senate, the State Board of Education. The Board's members should be drawn from and represent distinct geographical regions, and should reflect the ethnic and gender diversity of the state's populace. The functions of the State Board of Education should be limited to state policy matters specified by the Legislature.
Once management of the California Department of Education has been transferred to the Governor's office, the separate executive director and staff of the State Board within the Department of Education should be eliminated.
A healthy and complementary relationship can exist between the Governor's Office and a Superintendent with a newly defined set of focused responsibilities that will benefit all public school children. Hence, we recommend assignment of all functions related to non-fiscal accountability to the SPI position that will enable the SPI to provide an independent and informed voice on behalf of students and their families in the annual budget and legislative deliberations that affect public schools.
The Superintendent of Public Instruction should remain an elected position and be responsible for all aspects of accountability for public education other than fiscal accountability. The Superintendent should exercise the following functions related to accountability in California's K-12 education system:
- Provide for and manage a comprehensive accountability system of student and institutional measurement, to include indicators of the opportunities for teaching and learning, outputs, quality of information, and governance/policy instruments that aim to ensure adequate and equitable provision of education;
- Ensure compliance with special education and civil rights law by all relevant participants in the education system.
- Monitor the impact of state policy on the success of local K-12 programs in fostering student achievement;
- Monitor the implementation of state and federal programs to ensure that they meet the needs of all targeted students;
- Provide public identification of schools that have failed to meet student achievement targets;
- Define and implement the processes for intervention in schools that fail to meet student achievement targets pursuant to state and federal laws;
- Serve as an advisor to the Legislature and the Governor and as an advocate to promote the State's Master Plan for Education and system accountability; and
- Act as the independent spokesperson of California's populace, and of students in particular, in public discourse on educational issues.
Local-Level PreK-12 and Adult Education
Historically, Californians and their policy-makers have supported a significant degree of local control over the delivery of K-12 education. County superintendents and county boards of education were constitutionally created to provide support and oversight to communities on behalf of the State. School districts were statutorily created and given significant responsibility to determine the policies and programs that could best meet the state's constitutional guarantee of elementary and secondary education in the context of local conditions. The scope of responsibility of these local governing entities has been significantly narrowed over time, in conjunction with the State's assuming a greater share of the fiscal burden of providing K-12 education and in response to local districts' uneven provision of educational opportunity, among other factors.
The ways in which local control is exercised have also been altered since the advent of collective bargaining between school boards and their unionized employees. While the governmental institution of K-12 public education has evolved in important ways since that time - for example, in a consistent trend of court cases that found the State has a basic responsibility for the operation of public schools that it cannot entirely delegate to local school districts - the role and scope of collective bargaining have not been comprehensively reconsidered in light of that evolution.
Many advantages obtain from a significant degree of local control. Local agencies are in a position to clearly identify the distinct and diverse needs of their students and communities, and to modify the educational program to best meet those needs. Local decision making - including policy development and the determination of fiscal priorities - enhances the access of citizens to the policy functions of government, and through that access can enhance the involvement of and support in educational processes by the communities they serve. Further, the availability of differences in local programs offer families the opportunity to seek the education that they desire for their children. For these reasons, an appropriate measure of local control should be firmly reestablished.
Local control - in the context of a state guaranteed education - can best be maintained by a clear delineation of the roles and responsibilities of the various local entities. In addition, the State should foster a configuration of local entities that leads to the optimal support of students' learning needs, maximizes educational effectiveness, and promotes efficiency. Toward these ends, we recommend:
Local school district governing boards should be assigned the policy and administrative authority and a set of management responsibilities to enable them to effectively operate schools that are responsive both to state-level standards and policy priorities and to local community needs. These responsibilities should include, but not be limited to, the following:
- Establish a vision for the goals and objectives the district;
- Develop and adopt district policy on how best to implement local, state, and federal goals and requirements for the PreK-12 system as a whole, within the local context;
- Recruit/select highly qualified individuals for senior leadership positions;
- Ensure that the district superintendent is meeting the vision, goals and performance objectives of the district, and ensure that the superintendent holds district personnel accountable;
- Adopt a fiscally responsible budget based on the district's vision and goals, and regularly monitor the fiscal health of the district;
- Allocate available resources within the district so as to balance baseline equity— appropriately staffed, safe, clean, and decent schools for all students—with targeted additional resources pursuant to special funding categories described in the California Quality Education Model;
- Establish a framework for the district's collective bargaining process, in the instances in which bargaining is used, and adopt responsible agreements that reflect the interests of the public;
- Adopt district curriculum and monitor student progress;
- Provide support, as necessary, to ensure the success of schools within the district;
- Collaborate and seek sustained positive partnerships with other non-education elements of local government, local employers, postsecondary education institutions, and community organizations; and
- With particular regard to middle and secondary grades, maintain constant institutional emphasis on locally tailored efforts to achieve and maintain high rates of pupil attendance.
Evidence and testimony reviewed reveal numerous local school districts that are operating efficiently and effectively in promoting the achievement of students. Unfortunately, testimony and data received indicate too many schools and school districts have not been as effective in promoting student achievement as California needs them to be. This unevenness in school/district performance is of great concern. Some of it can be addressed by assigning a set of responsibilities and authority to local school boards that are clear and aligned with the goals California has set for its public education system as a whole. The foregoing list highlights those responsibilities that have emerged as the most important to successful implementation of this Plan.
The State should take steps to bring all school districts into unified PreK-12 structures.
District governance structures should support the objectives of focusing on meeting student needs and enhancing student achievement. Such focus is necessarily served when the governing board has responsibility for the comprehensive educational interests of the students in its charge, as opposed to each student's interest for a limited portion of his or her experience. By contrast, our public schools are governed by a variety of structural arrangements, many of which perpetuate isolated approaches to education delivery within a particular sector, rather than the more aligned and collaborative approach advocated in this Master Plan. At the state level, this student focus is supported by the development of academic standards, which should inherently provide a certain level of curricular alignment among districts. However, our vision of a coherent system of schools, colleges, and universities would be fostered by the adoption of unified school districts throughout the state. The unified district approach reinforces the goal of achieving course alignment and articulation across grade levels. The Education Trust has provided data indicating that other states pursuing reforms aimed at improving student achievement have been most successful when they have chosen a unified PreK-16 approach.
The Legislature should develop fiscal and governance incentives to promote local communities organizing their local schools into unified districts, and should eliminate all fiscal and other disincentives to unification.
Local districts should, where appropriate, consolidate, disaggregate, or form networks to share operational aspects, to ensure that the educational needs of their students are effectively met and that their operational efficiency is maximized.
In many areas of the state, small schools and small district school boards work together well to effectively promote student achievement. At the same time, many small districts are unable to realize the cost-efficiencies that come with larger populations, to extend to all their students the opportunities envisioned by this report as constituting a high-quality education, or may expend limited, valuable resources on business functions that might be more efficiently consolidated with those of other districts. Conversely, larger districts, which can maximize cost-efficiencies and opportunity, are often criticized for being dissociated from the communities they serve, as a simple result of their size. California students should benefit from district sizes that are designed to support optimal levels of student achievement. Types of district consolidation and networking may need to be different for purposes of educational program delivery and for business operations. The committee does not yet have sufficient data to recommend a particular array of options in this regard. We therefore recommend a process be undertaken to identify and implement these options, including appropriate incentives and disincentives, pursuant to the following recommendations:
The Legislature should undertake a comprehensive study to determine the optimal size ranges for school districts with respect to both educational delivery and the conduct of business operations. The study should additionally identify a range of funding considerations that are based on size and structural options and that could be appropriately leveraged to attain optimal conditions.
Each county committee on school organization should review the findings of the study and should have a period of three years to develop and recommend local plans and conduct local elections that would implement the findings of the study for all school districts within its jurisdiction.
Local districts should be provided the opportunity to exercise a degree of firmly established local control, protected from encroachment by state laws, through an amendment to the state constitution permitting those districts to adopt limited 'home rule' authority by votes of their electorates in a manner similar to that long authorized in the constitution for cities and counties.
Although local control is strongly favored politically, the Legislature nevertheless can and does frequently create new laws controlling various topics that had previously been matters of local discretion. A constitutional 'home rule' provision for school districts could limit that problem, by giving local districts the ability to develop their own "ordinances"that would supersede state law in specified areas. To be successful, a 'home rule' provision would have to very carefully spell out a limited set of matters which districts could control and clearly exclude areas of State interest, such as standards and accountability, compliance with civil rights and special education laws, etc.
To avoid legal confusion that might result from different 'home rule' ordinances on the same subject matter in districts with overlapping boundaries, the 'home rule' authority would necessarily be limited to unified districts - but could then function as an incentive to unification.
The concept of 'home rule' inherently enhances the relationship of the local electorate to its governing board, since the operational provisions granting 'home rule' must be adopted, and can only be amended, by the vote of the district's citizens. Governing boards can be still more responsive to local educational priorities, and can be held more accountable by local electorates, when they are able to generate revenues locally and can demonstrate a direct connection between a revenue source and specific services. Therefore, the scope of authority of 'home rule' districts should include the new local taxation authority proposed in this report (see Recommendation 46).
The Legislature should initiate a state-level inquiry to examine the optimal size of county offices of education, the potential transition of county offices of education into regional entities, and the efficiencies that might be realized from the consolidation of various operational aspects of county offices to organize their services to meet current and emerging district and regional needs, including fiscal oversight and management and administrative assistance. Based on the findings of this inquiry, the Master Plan should be amended, as appropriate, to incorporate action based on the findings of this inquiry.
California's public school system is too large and complex to be effectively managed centrally at the state level. There are local needs that are best met and oversight functions that are best carried out at a level that is neither defined by the broad perspective of the State, nor the more parochial perspectives of local districts. However, some county offices of education are either too small or too large to discharge their responsibilities effectively and efficiently. Moreover, the enormous additional investment that will be required to implement the provisions of this Master Plan prompts a search for efficiencies and cost avoidance that will enable a larger proportion of education appropriations to be directed to the core functions of teaching and learning.
County offices of education provide a set of services that are valued by most local school districts. Many provide educational services that would otherwise not be available to students or schools due to small size and California's funding mechanism, which does not generate sufficient funding for small districts to directly provide these services. Larger districts have developed internal capacities that obviate the need for county offices to do much more than review annual budgets and hear appeals of various district decisions. The cost of maintaining a county office of education in every county in the state, with similar structures and operations, must be critically examined for cost effectiveness and the potential advantages of consolidation into a reduced number of regions or consolidation of operations. In addition, the specific responsibilities assigned to county/regional offices of education should reflect the extent to which they might be instrumental in the State's effort to ensure that all schools and districts meet minimum standards for a high-quality education. County/regional offices are much better positioned to monitor compliance with certain state requirements than is a single state entity.
County/Regional offices of education should be assigned a set of functions, resources, and authority both to serve local districts in their efforts to provide comprehensive curricula to students and professional development opportunities for professional staff, and to act as monitoring agents on behalf of the State to ensure that every public school meets minimal standards of educational quality. These functions and responsibilities should include the following:
- Directly provide educational services to students served by small districts that might not otherwise be able to provide a comprehensive array of curricular offerings or learning support and to students attending court and county community schools;
- Provide professional development, or facilitate the provision of professional development to education personnel in school districts requesting such services;
- Serve as the appellate body for parents who disagree with specified decisions of local school boards;
- Monitor fiscal decisions of local school boards and, when appropriate, intervene to forestall imminent bankruptcy if local budget decisions were to be implemented;
- Serve as the primary catalyst and facilitating agency to ensure that all schools have access to a technology infrastructure that enables electronic exchange of information and educational materials; and
- Monitor the facility decisions of local boards and, when appropriate, intervene to ensure that every school maintains facilities that comply with state quality assurance standards.