Restraining the Role of Government: Focusing on the Long Term
California is an excellent example of how restraining and focusing the role of government can lay the groundwork for greater equity and improvement. With the election of Jerry Brown in 2010, the state's leadership team set out a methodical plan to accomplish two goals: right the broken funding and governance system, and provide coherent support for deep transition to the Common Core at the school and classroom levels. A first step was restoring funding for education as the state began its economic recovery; without this move, the other steps would have been difficult, if not impossible, both politically and fiscally. But at the heart of the fiscal transformation has been passage and implementation of the LCFF, which has two major components: (a) a more equitable allocation formula to districts, based on the numbers of students, with additional weights for counts and concentrations of students in poverty, English learners, and foster youth; and (b) the removal of categorical funding streams, and with them, the myriad of conflicting, burdensome, and top-down regulations that made it difficult for local districts to develop coherent, contextspecific improvement strategies.
The second focus has been to support effective implementation of the Common Core. The governor, State Board of Education, Department of Education, and state legislature have all united around this goal, and the legislature's allocation of an additional $1.25 billion for capacity building for Common Core standards implementation had both symbolic and material benefits toward its realization. In addition, policies for curriculum and instructional guidance (recommendations of texts and development of instructional frameworks), teacher licensure, admissions criteria for the state's public universities, and accountability systems have been or are being aligned to support Common Core implementation. Each of these areas reflects the same state restraint as in LCFF, with the state playing a supportive and advisory role and placing much greater discretion with districts to respond to their local contexts.
Perhaps one of the boldest and most illustrative moves of the state was the decision to end use of the existing California Standards Tests in spring 2014, before the new Common Core standards-aligned assessments were ready for full implementation. Believing that continued administration of the old tests would send mixed signals to teachers and schools—and recognizing that students and adults could benefit from a run-through with the new assessment formats and technology—state leaders pushed back against accountability demands from the federal government and instead expanded the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) field test to include all students in the relevant grades across the state. This move was accompanied by a systematic collection and analysis of data on the implementation of the field test to inform state and local leaders about their readiness for the official SBAC administration set for spring 2015.
State leaders have also maintained focus by eschewing “reforms” that they believed were not in the best interests of the state or would detract from the fiscal and Common Core foci. Most notably, they declined to apply for an NCLB waiver because it would have required creation of a state test-based teacher evaluation system, which they felt would both violate state law and jeopardize the emerging coalition in support of Common Core implementation.