I, FOR ONE, AM OPTIMISTIC. YOU?
Updated: Mar 20, 2018
Among the authors I often cite in my Organizational Leadership class at CSUF is Larry Cuban, Emeritus Professor at Stanford University. In a 2013 article in the Journal of Educational Administration aimed at explaining how errors in policymaking contribute to the minimal impact that structural, curricular and cultural changes have made on teaching practice in American schools, Cuban writes, “Any fair-minded observer familiar with the history of US education could hardly deny the fundamental changes in funding, organization, governance, and curriculum that have occurred in public schools over the past two centuries. Schooling in the USA has gone from a largely private, religious, and short-term schooling for a narrow slice of middle class and affluent Americans in the eighteenth century to a public, tax-supported, secular system governed by state and local school boards that has provided, over time, equal access to knowledge and age-graded structures for all children and youth from kindergarten through high school.”
The kernel I want my students to take from this class is that there are no shortcuts or quick fixes in education reform. Historically, a misplaced trust in structural reform has led to “been there, done that, this too will pass” syndrome that thwarts organizational change at the fundamental level. Redesigning, replacing, or renovating the key structures of schools such as school governance, organization, and curriculum rarely change instruction and have proven to not impact student learning, as evidenced by the widening achievement gap. Another often-cited author in my Organizational Theory course is Michael Fullan, Professor Emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Fullan has been a harsh critic of structural reform over substance, recommending that schools and districts focus on a small number of ambitious goals and build capacity.
Now we are in the midst of yet another change. This time it’s a sea change in California, with the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) replacing Revenue Limits, redesigning the delivery of content standards using Common Core State Standards (CCSS) methodology with its emphasis on career-level reading and a high degree of procedural skill, fluency, and application, and renovating Career Technical Education with the Career Technical Education Pathways Initiative.
You may be wondering why anything will be different this time around. Perhaps you’re thinking that this monumental shift will amount to yet even more oxygen to ignite the flames of public education critics (and in social media vernacular, the haters). While I understand your reluctance to embrace this significant shift in the What (CCSS), the Why (College and Career Readiness), and the How (LCFF) given our historical track record, I am optimistic (yes, that’s my nature) as are many of more most trusted and well-respected colleagues and academics. Why?, because of the grassroots approach this time around. Students, parents, and teachers own this movement, at least in districts that truly delivered the goods that the Local Control and Accountability Plan promised. Districts that reinvented their decision-making process and added transparency to their list of strategies to engage their constituents are already finding families engaging in ways they did not in the past, including staying and improving schools instead of fleeing.
With the financial future of K-16 education secure in California, at least for the immediate future, all of the attention can be turned on developing a new accountability system to ensure that things will be different this time around. On May 7, 2015, the California State Board of Education (SBE) held a public hearing on the State’s new accountability system, which is still relatively early in the developmental process. A discussion ensued on system coherence to support continuous improvement in California’s new accountability system, which included a discussion of the evaluation rubrics that will be used to ensure accountability. Evaluation rubrics are commonly used for accreditation and outcomes assessment in virtually every discipline. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation process is one example, but there are many others already existing in education. The shift will not be embracing the process and ensuring it’s inclusive. In my experiences, it requires a shared vision and ownership at every level.
Among the recommendations recently adopted by the SBE were moving the state accountability system from a single index to multiple measures, and suspending the current single index (Academic Performance Index) for the 2014-15 school year. The votes for both were unanimous with no abstentions or recusals. There is agreement at the highest level. Now it’s the job of education leaders at every level to build agreement (aka consensus) within their ranks to deliver what every child deserves: a future.