Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education

California's Vision

This California Master Plan for Education provides a long-term vision for an education system that is available to every Californian and that focuses on both learner needs and outcomes. This Plan is intended to serve as a framework to guide state and local policy-makers, as well as our educators, educational and community-based agencies, and business leaders, in making decisions that support this focus; to provide clear statements of expectations and goals; and to facilitate flexibility in responding to local needs and taking advantage of opportunities.

A Vision for California's Educational System

California will develop and maintain a coherent system of first-rate schools, colleges, and universities that prepares all students for learning and for transition to and success in a successive level of education, the workplace, and society at large, and that is fully responsive to the changing needs of our state and our people.

If this Master Plan's vision is to be met, our schools, colleges, and universities must make serving students' learning needs their primary focus, including at the most advanced levels of education. School districts, county and regional entities, community-based organizations, postsecondary institutions, business and industry, and the State must all collaborate with each other in building an aligned system of education that ensures the availability of the necessary resources to meet learner needs. All functions and policies of our education system must be regularly reviewed and revised to ensure that each supports this focus; in short, this vision requires a dynamic plan that is based on learner needs and that is comprehensive, grounded in data, and reviewed regularly for evidence of progress and need for revision.

Foundational Principle

The fundamental principle that serves as the foundation for this Master Plan is that an effective and accountable education system must focus first and foremost on the learner. Policies, practices, structures, and financing must all be re-evaluated and modified as needed to ensure they are supportive of learners and their acquisition of the knowledge and skills that will enable them to be successful learners and earners throughout their lifetimes.

Equal opportunity for all has been a broad goal of American public education for generations. Only in approximately the last 30 years, however, have the nation's educational and political establishments begun to develop a commitment to a two-pronged refinement of that goal, one unprecedented in any culture in history: First, the public schools will be ensured the capacity to provide the various kinds of instructional and other support necessary for all children to succeed, including children whose readiness to learn has received little or no attention prior to their entering school, and those whose life circumstances continue to be less conducive to formal education than those of many others. Second, all children will not only begin school in an education system prepared to 'take them as it finds them,' but their persistence in that system will be developed, nurtured, and rewarded such that they will all ultimately graduate from high school with the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind requisite to self-initiated, life-long learning. This Master Plan is California's first comprehensive template for the accomplishment of that radical goal.

It is important to emphasize that this California Master Plan for Education is focused on all students. Every school-age child is constitutionally guaranteed access to a free public education and is entitled to a high-quality educational experience without regard to his or her individual educational objectives. This guarantee applies to students attending rural, suburban, and urban schools; students from low, middle, and high-income families; students whose home language is not English as well as those who have spoken English their entire lives; high-achieving students and students who require supplemental education services to succeed in school; and students with visible disabilities as well as those with less obvious disabilities. The opportunity to participate in high-quality educational experiences is one to which older adult learners are entitled as well, should they choose to pursue adult or postsecondary education within the state. That these students are diverse and represent a kaleidoscope of cultures, abilities, and learning styles is a given in California and represents both great promise and great challenge in the forging of a coherent educational system that focuses on student achievement and responds to the myriad ways in which students choose to use their knowledge and skills.

Our committee's focus on learners, and the foregoing goals for students, coincide with a newfound understanding of human brain development and learning. As the tenets of this Master Plan are implemented over time, every element of California's education system can be informed by this knowledge to ensure that appropriate learning opportunities occur at developmentally optimal times for learners, resulting in gains in every student's knowledge and cognitive development.

We have sought to identify ways in which our educational institutions can become more coherent or 'seamless,' providing learners with school and college experiences free of educational and bureaucratic impediments. We have sought to ensure equity within California's education system, through recommendations to distribute the resources and opportunities necessary for a high-quality education to every student, irrespective of his or her circumstances. Even as we have examined what is required to provide a high-quality education, we have also sought to facilitate the critical evolution from access to success, by focusing on greater academic achievement and career preparation across the full spectrum of students at all levels. Finally, we have sought to create effective and comprehensive accountability for the entire education system by delineating authority and responsibility for all its participants in a manner that ensures each can be held accountable for ensuring all students learn.

It must be recognized that this 2002 Master Plan is being crafted at a time when California, like the rest of the nation, has entered into an economic downturn after nearly half a decade of unprecedented economic prosperity (which followed a deep recession that opened the last decade of the 20th century). This economic development is instructive in two very important ways: it highlights the cyclical nature of California's 'boom and bust' economy, which has so dramatically shaped and reshaped educational opportunities; and it underscores the importance of Californians' taking a long-term approach to our collective investment in education. The committee realizes that an enormous increase in our investment in education will be required to fully implement the provisions of this Master Plan. Not all returns from this investment will be immediate; some will require years to be realized. This Master Plan, however, provides a guide to where new investments are most urgently needed to advance our vision for California education and, when it becomes necessary, where reduced investment might be directed to ensure least disruption to our collective commitment to promoting student achievement. It is envisioned that this Plan will guide our educational system for the next two decades; it should be used by the Legislature as a template to ensure that proposed education legislation in coming years is focused on reaching the goals contained in this Plan. Built-in flexibility will accommodate necessary changes during the life of the document.

Engaging the populace in planning for a more effective, learner-focused education system, especially for a system as large and complex as California's, requires creativity, a willingness to take risks, and a healthy amount of patience. Nonetheless, if our vision for California's educational enterprise is to be realized, it is imperative that all Californians become personally involved in the education and well-being of our learners - young and old alike. It is the challenge of this Master Plan for Education both to make that engagement happen and to guide it as it does. The Plan addresses this challenge by declaring the vision, principles, and goals of California's educational system; by clearly delineating the roles and responsibilities of all participants in the system; and by describing a system to ensure that those roles are effectively carried out to serve students.

We must engage every child, so he or she knows there is a place for him or her in our schools and in our society. We must engage communities both to foster a shared sense of purpose and to share responsibility for preparing and supporting every student. Ultimately, we must engage our entire state and its policymakers to make all Californians aware of the needs and purposes of our state's education system and the critical importance of planning for a future in which we raise the educational bar for all students while simultaneously opening the doors of academic and economic opportunity wider than ever before.

Organization of the Plan

The Joint Committee's vision is certainly ambitious. Ultimately, its implementation will require clear perspectives and input on the extent to which the vision remains in sight and within reach. This report seeks to provide those perspectives through its focus on four critical areas of California's educational system: access, achievement, accountability, and affordability. Each of the corresponding sections of this Plan provides a context for the interpretation of subsequent findings, describes today's realities and our vision of how California's education system could operate under the guidance of this Master Plan, and offers specific recommendations on what priorities should be pursued. Consistent with the goal of constructing a coherent education system, recommendations specific to preschool, K-12 education (including alternative education delivery structures), adult education, and postsecondary education are separately listed only when necessary to address unique features of these portions of the education system. Similarly, this 2002 Master Plan seeks to delineate clearly the functions, responsibilities, and authority that should reside with state-level entities and those that should be delegated to regional and local entities. Finally, the Plan provides, in its appendices, data and references the reader can use to acquire a deeper understanding of California's education system and the research base that supports many of the recommendations contained in this Master Plan.