Policy guide to prep and pepper candidates
Just in time for the silly season, the university-based, independent research center PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education) has released Reforming Education in California: A Guide for Candidates and Citizens, a 23-page plan for fixing K-12 schools.
While not breaking any new ground, it makes smart recommendations in four critical policy areas that budget-fixated candidates for the Legislature and for school board should be thinking about. Needless to say, gubernatorial candidates should, too, though you’d never guess that from the impoverished level of debate thus far.
PACE is affiliated with Stanford, UC-Berkeley and the University of Southern California. Some highlights of its report:
Ensuring access to high-quality teachers. Noting that turnover is 50 percent higher in high-poverty than low-poverty districts, where working conditions and salaries are generally better, PACE urges more financial resources to high-need schools. Doing this will require breaking loose from standard collective bargaining agreements to provide more flexibility to:
- Devise compensation policies to recruit teachers in critical areas, like math and science;
- Establish new transfer and hiring policies to better serve local needs;
- Create new career opportunities for excellent teachers to keep them in the classroom.
“Alternative approaches to recruitment, retention, and compensation would better equip California’s schools to find and retain teachers who can ensure success for all of their students, especially those facing the biggest challenges,” the report says.
Preparing students for success in college and careers:
The one area that the Legislature has increased support for K-12 schools has been establishing partnership academies that link academics to career opportunities through apprenticeships, internships and real-world learning. PACE recommends further developing these occupational pathways while tying them to the A to G courses required for admission to a four-year state university. Unlike traditional vocational courses, this linked learning approach doesn’t put students into either a vocational or college track, and shows promise as a dropout prevention strategy.
Financing education: Acknowledging that attempts to make the state’s K-12 funding system more equitable have failed, PACE makes another pitch for a weighted-student funding approach that would award more dollars to low-income children, special needs students and those learning English. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence recommended a similar approach. PACE also urges more district control over state dollars tied to specific purposes and new ways for local districts to raise money for their own schools. Low-income districts will need incentives or matching state money to enable them to raise what wealthy districts already do on their own.
“California’s education finance system is complex, inefficient, and inequitable. The state must take action to simplify the system of finance and to increase both transparency and equity,” the report says.
Tests and accountability: Events have overtaken one of PACE’s key recommendations. As I reported last week, the state’s three college and university systems have agreed in principle to use the Early Assessment Program, a test that CSU System developed for juniors in high school, as a common measure of college readiness. PACE had recommended this. Noting the conflicting and confusing accountability systems imposed by the state and federal governments, PACE urges a more simplified system.
PACE also doesn’t like the current high school exit exam, which hasn’t met its double goals of improving skills of high school students while giving employers a clear measure of graduates’ readiness for work. But PACE is unclear on what should take its place.