The world is changing — and so are California schools.
Our team of teachers, classified staff, administrators and parents are implementing a series of new programs designed to transform the education our students receive. These include:
• A new funding formula focused on local control and flexibility over spending decisions, one that takes most of the spending decisions away from Sacramento and puts them right where they ought to be: in the hands of local parents, teachers and community leaders.
• New rigorous state standards designed to prepare students for the modern economy by building the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied in any context.
• New assessments that are more challenging than the state’s previous standardized tests and that will require students to reason through complex problems, rather than just fill in the right bubble.
All these changes are designed with one purpose: providing a world-class education for all California students.
We know we have a lot of work still to do, but we are making progress. Since the funding crisis years of the recession, we are seeing class sizes get smaller again. We also see many programs coming back even better than before, including fun and rigorous science and math programs, and arts, music, drama and dance. The high school graduation rate is at 80% — an all-time high — and for students enrolled in career pathways programs it is even higher, 95%.
As I travel the state visiting schools, I’ve observed a new sense of optimism among parents, students, teachers and community leaders.
Most schools — while still woefully underfunded compared to other states — are starting to receive the investments they need to improve student performance and better prepare all our students for college and careers.
We don’t know what tomorrow’s jobs will be, but we do know that our future depends on a strong workforce. Today’s schools have to prepare kids to be part of it. We know we must prepare our students to be experts in the acquiring, handling and skillful use of information.
But we know there aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions to come from Sacramento. Instead we have returned more power and decision-making authority to local schools and districts while providing extra funds for the students who need it most — English learners, foster children and low-income students.
For example, under the Local Control Funding Formula, Fresno Unified School District is receiving an estimated $96 million more than it did two years ago, while Clovis Unified School District is receiving $35 million more. Districts’ Local Control and Accountability Plans will demonstrate how their spending decisions help improve every child’s education.
Everyone has a voice in creating the plans. District officials will show that they have actively sought participation from parents, teachers, school employees and community leaders in writing their plan.
This year all districts in the state produced their first accountability plan. In 2015 they will be updating them, and you are welcome to participate.
Each district can concentrate on its own priorities. California is a diverse state and the needs of Oakland or Los Angeles are not the needs and priorities of Fresno, Clovis or Bakersfield. I’m looking forward to seeing the different solutions our local leaders develop to serve their students.
We also know that in order for our students to succeed, lessons need to be relevant to their lives. That is why we already invested $250 million in Career Pathways programs that link academic subjects with internships in areas such as manufacturing, engineering, health care and robotics, providing hands-on learning and real-world experience. Currently, we are seeking applications for a new $250 million round of grants to create more Career Pathways programs that involve partnerships among schools, community colleges and businesses.
One district, Madera Unified, received a $600,000 grant to develop a program allowing students to train in viticulture and crop production to prepare them for jobs in the agricultural and wine industries. The district is teaming up with Reedley College, Merced College, Fresno State and business and community partners to create the program.
Taken together, these changes — local control, new standards and assessments, and a focus on making sure our students learn the skills they need to be successful in their college and careers — add up to a transformation in California education — one that will help ensure our students have the skills they need to prosper and help our Golden State continue to lead the world in agriculture, technology and so many other fields.
For more information about the transformation occurring in California schools, check www.cde.ca.gov.