Building Public and Stakeholder Constituency for Improvement

None of the changes above would have been possible without the ongoing mobilization both of the leaders (“grass tops”) of education stakeholder groups in the state and grassroots organizing among parents and voters in the communities. Community organizers along with statewide advocacy groups and professional associations rallied support for passage of Proposition 30 in 2012, which brought new dollars into the system through institution of a tax on the wealthiest 3 % of Californians. These same organizations remained active in the massive effort to press the state legislature to pass LCFF and have been involved in providing input into its refinement over the past two years. Indeed, local community and parent input is a core requirement in the development of the Local Control Accountability Plan, in which each district outlines its locally determined goals and allocations for addressing the general state priorities in education.

The momentum and sense of accomplishment from the successful LCFF campaign has also carried over to a sense of optimism and common purpose around Common Core implementation. Informal stakeholder meetings in 2013 led to the formation of a statewide Consortium for Implementation of the Common Core, with involvement from state agencies, local districts, county offices of education, charter management organizations, business, higher education, advocacy groups, teachers unions, and professional associations. The purpose of this consortium is to enable coordination of effort, fill in gaps where needed and feasible, and maintain an active broad-based constituency of support for continuous improvement and standards implementation.

Leveraging and Strengthening Professional Networks

Of course, the heart of educational improvement relies on building professional engagement, commitment, and capacity—including the needed social capital to spread more effective practices. In California this has taken the form of involving professional associations and the teachers unions in Common Core coalitions, as well as mobilizing professional networks like the California Subject Matter Projects to focus teacher attention and learning on the knowledge and practices needed for effective Common Core-aligned instruction. Leading districts in the state have provided exemplars of continuous improvement strategies, and networks and partnerships of local districts have generated opportunities for focused learning across contexts and across levels of the systems involved.

A combination of pressure and support from each of these arenas has been instrumental in laying the foundation for a more equitable state education system and one that enables rather than precludes a continuous, standards-based approach to improvement. Yet California's progress in this direction is still precarious, and several key challenges face state policy makers and local educators over the next few years.

First, it is unclear what will happen when the expectedly low results of the new SBAC assessments are released in summer 2015: Will the public and its politicians have the patience for the long-term improvement process needed? Second, it is also unclear whether the local planning processes put in place for LCFF will generate the kinds of strategic coherence and consistency needed to ensure deep and equitable implementation of the new standards. Trust between equity advocates and local educators is still inchoate, and LCFF remains an experiment in the eyes of many. If results for traditionally underserved students are insufficiently transparent or compelling, the pullback to categorical funding streams and requirements will be strong—and demoralizing. A third challenge is the as-yet-undefined nature of the new accountability system and the lack of a unified vision for accountability that can actually support continuous improvement. Finally, the greatest challenge is the most obvious: How will the state build the individual and organizational capacity at the local level to enable the instructional shifts in classrooms across the state? California has almost 300,000 teachers, and they carry the burden for success of the Common Core and of the education enterprise more generally. Establishing the infrastructure to support them in this transition is an unprecedented challenge that the state has yet to fully address.

We have ended with an extended description of the situation in California because we believe that it provides reasons for hope as well as lessons for other states and jurisdictions. If we can move education in the most complex and challenging state system in the country, then other less troubled and more successful systems should also be able to make progress. California's example suggests the importance of both leadership and stakeholder engagement, of flexibility combined with coherence and focus, and of adequacy and equity of resources.

It also suggests the magnitude of the challenge to take such a vision to all of the other 49 states. Yet, there is hope and some evidence that change is possible. There are scattered examples of states such as Massachusetts and Texas that have proposed reforms and stayed with them over at least a decade. A substantial number of districts across the country have moved toward continuous improvement models as the core of their reforms, based on a growing recognition that accountability without investment in improvement does not work. Networks of superintendents and teachers exist in many states. Almost everyone in education understands we need standards and curricula that prepare students for intellectually rigorous work and that teachers need substantial support to implement the new curricula. Many of the ingredients for serious reform exist—this story is not over.

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