A Master Plan for Public Education (July 1999)

A Position Paper of the Association of California School Administrators


The mission of ACSA is to:

  • support California's educational leaders;
  • ensure all students have the essential skills and knowledge needed to excel; and
  • champion public education.

ACSA's Board of Directors enthusiastically supports the development of a comprehensive master plan for public education, pre-kindergarten through adult education. The need for a master plan has been growing at an increasing rate over the past two decades, primarily since the passage of Proposition 13. Public education in California has become more and more centralized and annual piecemeal reforms have been adopted. One does not need to debate the value or virtue of every new law, but it is daunting to consider that in 1997-98 legislative session, there were at least 650 individual bills introduced that affected education in one way or another. Of those that were introduced, some 180 became law. It is very clear to ACSA members that despite good intentions, the state lacks focus and direction with regard to education funding and policy issues.

After pressing for the development of a master plan through legislative and media efforts, our work now shifts to assisting the Legislature in drafting a guide to education policy making in California over the coming years. This document sets forth what ACSA believes should be the goal, purpose, principles, and components of a master plan. It represents the collective thinking of those who make up ACSA's diverse membership; school principals and vice principals, classified and certificated central office administrators, and superintendents.

First and foremost, the overriding goal of a master plan must be to improve education thoughtfully and systematically for California's six million students, pre-kindergarten through adult. If reforms are enacted and taxpayer money is spent on programs that do not lead to improved education, rethinking must occur. Likewise, the entire community of stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers, administrators, support personnel, state lawmakers, and the Governor must think in terms of alignment, recognizing the need for capacity building within the educational system.

ACSA believes that a master plan should:

  • Provide an articulated framework for future education-related policies, legislation, and fiscal decisions, serving as a lens through which proposals are examined.
  • Provide a common agenda and focus on what is needed in California schools.
  • Define the roles of all stakeholders; the Legislature, Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Board of Education and other boards and commissions, county superintendents, school districts, and school sites.

California's master plan for public education must be based on the following principles:

  1. A master plan must cover pre-kindergarten through adult education: Education provided by school districts and county offices of education starts before children enter kindergarten and ends when a high school diploma is issued (and sometimes beyond). It includes students from all backgrounds, cultural, economic, and academic. There exists an expanded body of research showing that brain and language development is critical between birth and age five. With this information and the changes in today's society, child care and development needs have dictated that our public schools begin serving students before kindergarten. Likewise, for many different reasons, graduating from high school for some occurs as an adult. Public schools are continually reaching out to those who never graduated or who lack basic skills to function in today's workplace, especially those who lack basic English language skills. California's master plan for public education must clearly articulate services expected of public schools for all students.
  2. In a master plan, all roles must be defined clearly: Education is a complex business and as such, many different individuals and entities are involved in setting policy, making fiscal decisions, and carrying out the day-to-day operations of schools. The wide range of interests and responsibilities makes it imperative that all of the "players" know their roles. Defining roles will help focus the attention of each person or entity and assist in holding all stakeholders and decisionmakers accountable.
  3. A master plan must embrace ideas that are research-based: Public resources are limited. This includes the resources of money, personnel, and time. There should be sufficient research indicating that a particular program will improve learning before it is implemented statewide. Even a minor decision that is made for the wrong reasons, or before research proves that success will follow, can add up to a lot of waste. California's schools need to be focused on what works.
  4. A master plan must embrace a systems approach: All decisions are connected. All programs are linked together. In fact, no program or expenditure can be enacted or changed without influencing other areas. If a decision is made to spend money in one place, there will be other areas where money cannot be spent. Although a program may be implemented in targeted grade levels, other grade levels will be affected as well as facilities, staffing, academic and professional calendars, and other areas. Attention is needed as to how new programs, such as testing, relate to instructional time. As a community, we must all be committed to broader thinking so that decisions are made with consideration of opportunity costs and linkages to systems internal and external.
  5. Local control must be the foundation of a comprehensive master plan: "He who has the gold rules" has become reality for California's public education system. With the evolution of school finance, the school system has become more reliant upon the state for most of its resources. As the state has assumed more control over school funding, it has also limited the ability of districts to decide what is in the best interests of local students. In addition, assumption of control by the state has led to other setbacks for schools as well. First, per-pupil funding has fallen dramatically in comparison to other states. Second, public satisfaction with the system as a whole has eroded. Research shows that when decisions are made locally, support for education improves. As California moves toward standards-based accountability, local control is essential. Otherwise, the state will hold districts accountable for actions over which local educators have little or no control.
  6. Educators must be recognized as professionals: Educators are professionals. Issues related to compensation, governance, training, school improvement, etc., should always be made under the premise that all school employees, certificated and classified, need to be treated more as resources and less as adversaries. This covers the spectrum of how decision makers view employees and how employees view each other. Education as a profession is a full-time responsibility that continues long after the students go home. Part of being recognized as professionals includes a work year that encompasses planning and professional development for all school employees.
  7. A master plan must be reasonable and sequential: We must be intentional in thinking through what public education should look like in the future. As issues are identified, it will be important to prioritize needs to ensure a logical progression of implementation. And just as important, adequate time must be allowed beyond the academic year for change to occur, including time for program planning and implementation, and staff development.

ACSA has identified five major components that are needed in master plan. Those components are:

Education is a local activity, and one cannot get any more local than the school site. All issues related to governance in education must be focused on school sites. Decisionmakers at all levels must continually reevaluate decisions and programs as to how they affect students, parents, teachers, principals, and site level support staff.

Perhaps the most critical issue to be addressed concerning governance is the need to define roles of the various stakeholders. If it is clear that the school site is the most important ingredient in education, then the question must be asked by everyone involved: "What can I do to help school sites?" To the school district, the role then becomes doing whatever it takes to support the schools in the district. To the county offices and state, the role then is one that supports the district so that it can carry out its main mission: to support individual schools.

Equally important, the roles of state level players must be specifically defined and delineated to ensure that there is no confusion and to minimize redundancy. State-level players include the Governor, Legislature, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Secretary of Education, State Board of Education, and Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Another important factor in defining roles is pupil services. Students have more needs than schools alone can provide. Schools are often looked at as the entity to provide any number of social and other services. A master plan should encompass detailed definitions of the roles and responsibilities of all state and local agencies that serve youth and families. Health and welfare, social services, and law enforcement are examples of non-educational entities that have the same clients as schools. Schools may appropriately serve as one-stop facilities for many different services, but a collaborative effort should be made to provide and fund those services.

As stated in our principles, ACSA feels very strongly that local control should be reestablished in California's education governance system. Too much direction comes from Sacramento in terms of new laws, mandates, and spending requirements enacted by the Legislature and Governor, as well as administrative regulations and other requirements that come from state agencies such as the Department of Education and the Department of Finance. Every requirement erodes local control and reduces the time that educators spend educating. The Education Code and state regulations governing education must be reduced from a list of specific rules to more simple statements of goals and expectations. Flexibility and local decision making should be the rule.

This year, California is in the process of creating its first real accountability system. The system is based on state-adopted standards measured by a state-adopted assessment system. The state must afford districts time and resources to train teachers and support staff about the standards, align curriculum, and ensure textbooks and other instructional materials are available to students. Local control and accountability can work together; the master plan should spell that out.

Any discussion of local control must include consideration of how collective bargaining inhibits local control. Surely the idea of teachers and administrators talking about the many aspects of education at the local level is laudable. However, the current collective bargaining scope, joined with an industrial model of employee union representation, often turns these discussions into miniature (and sometimes large) battles. Communities may not be able to discuss or implement a particular program because it has to go through a bargaining process where the discussion can turn away from the issue at hand. ACSA is not concerned about having to negotiate. It is simply that the current collective bargaining scope is so large that it slows and at times eliminates local decision making authority of the community as a whole.

Standards-Based System
ACSA embraces a comprehensive, standards-based accountability system. This system should rest on five key components:

  • Content standards to define what students should know and be able to do;
    Performance standards to define levels of proficiency;
  • Appropriate assessments to determine if learning has occurred and to guide and inform instruction;
  • Resources and support to assure that the quality of teaching and student achievement are improved;
  • Shared responsibility by all stakeholders, including students, parents, educators, community members and state leaders.

We realize that pieces of these components are in place in California in one form or another. We also recognize that the parts of the system we have now were put into place in rather piecemeal fashion and out of sequence. There remains a great deal of work to be done to align the system and make it work for the benefit of students, parents, and educators. However, the system represents the basic framework that a master plan should support; one where standards are set, assessment instruments are in place, schools are held accountable for results, and the state steps out of the way. The state's responsibility is to provide adequate resources and implementation timelines while maintaining the discipline to stay away from directing school decisions.

Accountability is the link between a standards-based system and local control. Assessment is the key component that holds it all together. Assessment should measure student attainment of standards. It should guide instruction, inform parents and students of progress, and provide educators and other stakeholders information on program effectiveness. For assessment to be effective and useful, it must include the following elements:

  • Assessment instruments must be aligned with standards;
  • Assessment instruments must be integrated and useable for multiple purposes;
  • Information must be provided on individual student progress, progress of specific groups of students, schoolwide achievement, curricular evaluation, and system accountability;
  • Assessment instruments must utilize a variety of measures since no one single assessment tool can adequately evaluate student, school, or district success.
  • Assessments must be developed utilizing the most current psychometric principles. Adequate time must be allowed for necessary field testing to ensure validity and reliability.
  • Assessment criteria and instruments must be clearly defined to ensure comparability of assessment across student populations and for the same students over time.
  • Assessment must be simple, clear, and coherent so results are usable and understandable for all stakeholders.

It is no secret that California's public schools are underfunded. California is a wealthy state, ranking as the world's seventh largest economy. But when compared to other states, our per-pupil funding level ranks well below average. It is true that money will not solve all of the problems facing public schools, but can one really expect world class performance with below average funding? We think not.

California's master plan must include goals and timelines to increase funding to a more realistic level, like the top quartile in comparison to other states. Aspiring to the average will result in average schools. California's students deserve better. Part of the plan must include what the state's commitment should be as well as identifying additional local resources. Identifying local sources of revenue, along with establishing a simple majority vote requirement, would help restore funding to where it should be and institute more local control over programmatic and facility issues and promote a stronger connection between school and community.

State funding to schools should include a substantial commitment to discretionary funding on a per-pupil basis, one which should be enhanced with a simplified system of funding special needs. The discretionary amount should be equalized around the state, taking into consideration basic differences such as type of school district. The focus should be on ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students.

Education as a Profession
ACSA believes that the state has a key partnership role when it comes to staffing. The state as a whole benefits from having a well trained and compensated certificated and classified staff and it should direct its efforts at assisting educators in the following ways:

  • Partner with training institutions and local school districts to foster collegiality among education professions, certificated and classified, teacher and administrator. All employees need additional training in methods to make decisions on topics outside of a limited scope of bargaining.
  • Assist in recruitment efforts to attract and retain the best and brightest. This includes funding schools at a level where they can compete with major industries, limiting the scope of bargaining to foster more collegial relationships between educators, assisting with recruitment by easing reciprocity requirements with other states, simplifying the credentialing process, and maintaining state-level retirement systems to ensure system strength and portability.
  • Foster professionalism among educators by eliminating financial and other barriers to such things as a longer contract year for staff development and preparation, and lengthening the probationary period.
  • Provide assistance and support to allow all school employees to be evaluated based on a clear set of standards and supported with training, mentoring, and coaching to ensure academic success of all students. All educators are accountable for student academic success and need ongoing professional development throughout their careers.

ACSA believes that as a master plan is developed, a part of that plan should include how it will be communicated to elected officials and to the broader community, including businesses, parents, and students. A plan of this magnitude and significance deserves to be broadcast widely and understood by all stakeholders. Public education is at a point that it cannot afford any missed opportunities. Once this plan is written, an extensive communications effort will be needed to bring everyone up to speed on the content to (1) increase the level of knowledge about the plan and (2) achieve favorable and continuing buy-in from newly elected and appointed decisionmakers.

While ACSA is calling for a pre-kindergarten through adult education master plan, the Legislature will be drafting a master plan that will include higher education. Forming a seamless pre-kindergarten through university master plan will benefit all levels of the educational system and all students within the system. Providing linkages and fostering collaboration between school districts, county offices of education, community colleges, and universities will be powerful. Similar linkages to social services and pupil services are critical.

Progress reports should also be incorporated into the plan. Because society and the needs of schools change, progress reports should be made continually throughout the life of the master plan, including how it is being implemented and whether or not it is working. The plan, therefore, would be flexible in meeting any new challenges facing schools and students.

ACSA agrees with the Legislative Analyst's assessment, as contained in the report "A K-12 Master Plan," that California can "within the existing constitutional framework, revise its educational structure to accommodate most of the governance changes brought by the 1970s and use the state's power to improve student achievement. To accomplish this change, however, requires a consensus on the direction of reform and a plan that would guide state policy over the long term."

While we recognize that there are immediate needs that cannot wait for the realization of a master plan, creating a master plan will help create a cohesive structure of policies, roles, and responsibilities to guide education decision making over time. Further, the principles and issues covered in this document can guide the development of a long term plan and serve as a gauge for any short term policy issues that arise before a plan is completed.

Approved by the ACSA Board of Directors July 30, 1999


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