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Actions in Sacramento Undermining Real Accountability

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[Correction and Comment: The text has been updated to clarify the governor's position.  Gov. Brown has not taken a position on Assembly Bill 1321. The State Board of Education also wishes to respond to the post. Because the EdWeek.org comment function is currently inoperative, I have appended the comment at the end of Ryan Smith's article. /CTK]


By Ryan J. Smith

In Ed Trust-West's most recent report, Hear My Voice: Strengthening the College Pipeline for Young Men of Color in California, we look at some of the biggest barriers our state's boys and young men of color face. One district leader quoted in the report explains that educational leaders and districts need more self-reflection, explaining that his staff ask themselves, "What are we doing as a system or a classroom that's throwing up some hurdle for kids?"

The same rings true with the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the state's new accountability system.

We are at a crossroads. While it is true that the state has made a concerted effort to improve upon LCFF, including revising a cumbersome Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) template and developing an LCFF-aligned multiple measure accountability system that provides a more holistic picture of how schools are doing, we face perhaps an even tougher, yet vital, task of ensuring LCFF and 'The California Way' remain true to equity by closing opportunity and achievement gaps for our students who have been underserved for far too long. But both our adjustments to defend and improve LCFF and our current progress on California's Every Student Succeeds Act plan are being undermined by putting complacency above students and responsibility. 

Currently, California is developing its ESSA state plan, which lays out how our state will comply with a federal civil rights law signed by President Obama and requiring stakeholder input. The state is hosting a series of input sessions with The Education Trust-West and our partner organizations to gather feedback. However, the California Department of Education's timeline on the ESSA state plan is structured in such a way that the parents, educators, students, and other stakeholders who are weighing in won't be given the opportunity to see how - or if - their input affects the plan. This is also what we hear from many stakeholders about the LCAP process - that input is often asked late in the process, and they rarely see how their input influences or is reflected in the plan. For a state that touts 'local control' as a hallmark of California innovation, actions are speaking louder than words.

We hope the shift to subsidiarity is about an authentic belief in local communities, not a passing of the buck. Assembly Bill 1321 intends to ensure this authentic focus on local control, not only helping to align LCFF with ESSA requirements, but providing the fiscal transparency many local advocates say they need in order to engage in meaningful 'local control and decision-making'. There are concerns about what reporting this information would require; however, there are ways to make transparency simple and manageable. The bill passed the state assembly without any no votes, yet Governor Brown has, perplexingly, been opposed to the type of fiscal transparency the bill would enable—despite that such transparency would seem to further embody and actualize his own principle of subsidiarity.

Time and again, I am reminded of civil rights leader Julian Bond's quote that "violence is Black children going to schools for 12 years and receiving 6 years' worth of education." As an advocate dedicated to student civil rights, I know what I'm fighting for. But when I see or hear the ways some politicians and leaders in Sacramento are resisting adherence to a civil rights law, and dismissing the voices of local stakeholders, I start to wonder if we're fighting for the same thing.

Ryan J. Smith is the Executive Director of The Education Trust-West, an organization dedicated to educational justice and forever closing opportunity and achievement gaps.


From: Janet Weeks, Director of Communications, California State Board of Education--

In addition to the 14 state-sponsored ESSA input sessions that have been held throughout California in recent weeks and the various additional meetings sponsored by partner organizations, there were three prior rounds of ESSA stakeholder feedback-gathering campaigns, the results of which have been summarized and reflected back in drafts. Further, the state timeline will allow more feedback from stakeholders prior to a vote in September. 


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