First in a Series on Strategic Planning for Education Leaders
The fall of strategic planning has been greatly exaggerated (see Henry Mintzberg). It’s enjoyed a renaissance in California since 2013, when the state decentralized accountability by collapsing the existing revenue limit funding formula inward, reconstituting it as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The implosion shifted control from the state to local authorities, exerting pressure on school districts to develop meaningful partnerships with the communities they serve.
This paradigm was long overdue and a staple of true democracy in a country that has no constitutional, or statutory, guarantee of the right to education. In the United States, the burden for providing a system of public education falls squarely on the broad shoulders of the states.
Conspicuous by its absence in the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973) that the federal government has no responsibility to provide systems of public education (In California, see Article IX CA Constitution, adopted 1879). The local level of control is the heart of the U.S. education system. Schools and schooling have long been established in America and elsewhere as the principal instrument to not only prepare children for lifelong learning, be it college or career, but also to teach cultural (national and local) values. It’s unlikely that any child denied the opportunity of an education would stand a chance in modern society.
California’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) may be the quintessential democratic model for local control of education. It has the potential to be a mutual accountability model revolving around a school district’s ability to engage its community to build a district in the image of the people whom it serves. Industry and economic development are uniquely local. A strategic direction for addressing workforce needs is but one example of how the LCAP can be locally shaped. But in reality, the LCAP has thus far realized no such success. In fact, in many districts it has become a compliance document, proof that a school district is allocating its resources across the State’s eight priorities, however thinly spread or ineffective.
Many county of education offices provide school districts with a checklist to ensure all the boxes have been checked for their annual plan submission, emblematic of a compliance instrument. Do you want more proof? Follow the money. Is it following the students? Is a school's SPSA a micro-LCAP?
A compliance instrument is exactly the opposite of what the key architect of the LCFF and LCAP, Michael Kirst, intended. Kirst was the president of the California State Board of Education when the revolutionary new education funding formula and its companion LCAP was created, developed, and implemented. The LCFF model is grounded in the theoretical perspective of subsidiarity with the promise of equity. The LCAP is grounded in the theoretical perspective of strategy-as-practice with the promise of decentralizing organizational decision-making through strategic planning.
In its highest form, the LCAP is a strategic resource allocation tool focused on building capacity and concentrating resources on where they are needed most (a local decision). After all, the LCFF and LCAP start and end with local control. Effective plans reflect the interests of the community as identified through a strategic planning process that is highly accessible and highly transparent, including the budgeting process. Since its inception in 2013, the transition from de-categorizing state control while ramping up local control by engaging parents in the budgetary process has been anything but seamless.
Multiple bipartisan organizations such as the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Education Trust-West have concluded that while LCAPs can be a useful tool for helping districts develop strategic plans, they lack a clear and strategic focus. Furthermore, studies have found that most LCAPs are over detailed, lack transparency, and are difficult to follow, especially how the resources are allocated. The challenge of moving from an unwieldy plan to a focused plan requires expertise in strategic planning. Here’s an example of a recent plan I authored and facilitated.
Since strategic planning arrived in the 1960s, it has been recognized and embraced for its functionality and as an effective process tool to unify an organization. A recent comprehensive database search that I conducted identified 12,297 books, 763,232 journal or magazine articles, 389,454 newspaper entries, 250,337 theses and dissertations, and 25,459 conference proceedings that included strategic planning in the title. When filtered by subject, education alone has had 42,602 articles, books, journal or magazine articles, newspaper entries, theses and dissertations, and conference proceedings published. There have been an astounding 30,072 education dissertations on the topic of strategic planning since 2012.
While not every school district in California qualifies for large amounts of LCFF supplemental and concentration grant funding, every school district, charter school and county office of education is required to create an LCAP.
The dichotomy between more local control while county offices of education ratchet up LCAP oversight is an example of how unprepared the California Department of Education and county offices were when they rolled out the State’s new accountability system in 2013. I recently attended an event related to the LCAP. Officials insisted that the LCAP is not a compliance plan. But as an expert in strategic planning, I can assure you that any find it, fix it, follow it planning model is a compliance plan. Don’t be fooled.
If your LCAP is an overdeveloped, yet simple system of checks and balances instead of a clear, strategic plan grounded in a realistic and socialized process model, join the movement to be part of the change that will help you move your organization move away from compliance and towards continuous improvement. Strategic planning can help you realize your potential as a leader.
Next article: Don’t Confuse Strategic Planning with Strategic Management