Stanley Rose III, Ed.D
“Greatness by Design: Supporting Outstanding Teaching to Sustain a Golden State”
Open Letter to the Community:
As we embark upon a new year, (one of the most critical decision-making years this state has faced, perhaps in decades), the California Department of Education this week released a new report, entitled “Greatness by Design: Supporting Outstanding Teaching to Sustain a Golden State.” The report was the product of a task force led by co-chairs Linda Darling Hammond, world-renown researcher from Stanford University, and Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser. The task force included teachers, administrators, community members, and a variety of other education leaders. State Superintendent of Public instruction, Tom Torlakson, in announcing the report, stated, “This is the most comprehensive look our state has taken at California’s most important profession—teaching—in a generation.”
The report makes recommendations for changes that are categorized and summarized below:
- Educator Quality: Use professional teacher and leader standards to guide and assess practice in a way that reflects best practices and incorporates appropriate evidence of student learning. Create a major commission to outline how these educator quality systems should best be designed, supported, and implemented.
- Curriculum and Assessment: Revise State curriculum standards, frameworks, and assessments to better reflect the demands of a knowledge-based society and economy, incorporate new Common Core Standards (CCS), and build on the strengths and needs of diverse learners. Incorporate technology as a key component of teaching, learning, and assessment, and support high levels of literacy and bi-literacy to prepare students for the globalized society.
- Higher Education and Secondary Alignment: Work with higher education partners to establish college and career readiness standards and align assessments for K-12 learning, college admissions, and college placement. Improve graduation rates and student preparation for college and careers by redesigning secondary school program models and curriculum.
- Accountability and School Improvement: Develop a robust system of indicators to give students, teachers and parents a more complete picture of school performance, including broader measures of growth and learning (that better assess 21st century skills); and measures of school capacity and student opportunities to learn.
- Early Childhood Education: Develop an infrastructure for a birth-to-3rd-grade system that serves our youngest learners and includes expanded access to programs designed to meet quality standards, supported by well-prepared and supported educators.
- Education Supports: Support the provision of wraparound services to enhance student access to healthcare, social services, before and after school programs, and other supports needed for success. Encourage the development of community school approaches.
- Health and Fitness: Improve children’s health, nutrition, and fitness by facilitating access to health insurance for all eligible children, supporting school-based health care, and encouraging better nutrition and increased physical activity.
- School Finance: Identify new or expanded sources of revenue to stabilize and increase financial support for schools. Foster and promote fiscal and administrative efficiencies. Create a weighted student formula approach.
- Facilities Construction and Reform: Enable districts to engage in more effective and efficient facilities construction and re-design.
The report identifies some staggering inequities that have gone largely unaddressed since the days of Proposition 13, in 1978. For example, while California ranks first in the number of students it serves, it is at the bottom of states in K-12 expenditures, both overall and as a share of personal income. Californians spend just over one-half as much as states with comparable costs of living. For example, while California spends about $9,000 per student, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut spend over $17,000 per student. Even more inequitable is the disproportionality with which Californians allocate their funds. Some districts spend only $6,000 per student, while others spend as much as $20,000 per student. When adjusted for cost-of-living differences, the gap widens to a ratio of nearly 4 to 1. It is where these disproportionalities exist that is most alarming. Cities tend to spend just below the state average, and poor rural districts spend even less. This makes California one of the most unequal states in the nation in providing resources to students.
Moreover, funding disparities lead to large inequalities in teacher and principal salaries and working conditions. The report cites that teacher salaries vary by a ratio of 3 to 1. For example, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 60 additional credits, with about ten years teaching experience, could earn from $41,000 in one district to $117,000 in another. Low salary districts tend to serve students in low-income districts and students of color. Such districts also have twice as many teachers who are without a credential and inexperienced. This creates a very unequal distribution of teacher quality. Teacher education programs now receive little help from the state. High need fields such as special education and English learner support provide too few high quality programs.
Given the above, it is not surprising that California ranks 48thin grade 4 and 49thin grade 8 reading testing on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In math, California 4thand 8thgrade students ranked 45thand 47th, respectively. In science, California students ranked 49thin both grades, just edging out Mississippi. Only 28 percent of students now graduate from a 4-year college, far below the national average.*
In spite of all the challenges, the report notes that California parents have repeatedly demonstrated and offered their support, while indicating willingness to invest in the system. Technological know-how within California is unsurpassed. New leadership is moving ahead in a more united way than in years past, including leadership by the State Board of Education, the Governor’s Office, and the California Department of Education.
This November, voters will have many critical decisions to make, and how they vote about education will be right at the top of the “to do” list. There are two schools-related tax measures on the ballot, Proposition 30, or the Governor’s initiative, and Proposition 38, the Molly Munger initiative. Being an informed voter has never been more important. The good news is that there are many working on the issues. The bad news is we are running out of time, time for our students—all of them—and time for our place in the world economy.
*Much of this article is referenced from the Report.The Report’s findings and recommendations are summarized in the full report available online at the CDE Educator Excellence Task Force Web page.