Advocates pushing for subgroup accountability

Advocates pushing for subgroup accountability

(Calif.) Three years ago as Gov. Jerry Brown was close to securing support from legislative leaders for his sweeping restructuring of the system for funding public schools, advocates for disadvantaged students brought the process to a standstill until protections were built into the program to ensure the money would be spent on target populations.

Today the same coalition is keeping close watch on the state’s critical steps to create a performance tool to help parents and the public understand how well schools are doing to close the achievement gap and create career- and college-ready students.

In letters and appearances before the California State Board of Education in recent weeks, the group – which includes Public Advocates, the ACLU of California, Education Trust-West, Families in Schools and Californians Together – has been lobbying for greater transparency in the method by which school districts will be required to report the performance of low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

The board, the California Department of Education and consultant WestEd are more than two years into developing a set of rubrics to be used by county offices of education and a state oversight body to evaluate how well school districts are meeting goals set within their Local Control Accountability Plans.

Among the concerns of the advocacy groups is that the rubrics, as currently designed, might diminish the still lagging performance of subgroups -- especially for English learners.

“This issue is still evolving for us," explained John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates. "I think the coalition is gaining comfort with WestEd’s approach if the purpose of the exercise is to identify how much of a performance gap an LEA needs to close for ELs against a common statewide standard and then to articulate proposed actions to do so.  If the purpose of the exercise is to simply report the size of the EL gap (but with no consequences beyond reporting), then the report should reflect the most accurate size of the gap which would mean comparing ELs to non-ELs."

As part of this question, the coalition has said that the state’s new performance system should not accept any local educational agency’s LCAP “if it is masking significant inequities in subgroup outcomes or growth.”

The group is also concerned that the process to build the rubrics – scheduled to be finalized in the fall – has not included enough input from parents and community stakeholders.

The advocates have developed their own version of the rubrics that they believe would give parents a better and more direct understanding of how schools are doing – especially when it comes to closing the achievement gaps.

Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula flipped authority over spending billions of dollars in state education money – most of it targeting disadvantaged students – from Sacramento to local school boards. He pushed the concept through the Legislature in 2013 but only after agreeing to include the requirement that LEAs write detailed plans for how they would use the money to benefit the three targeted groups – low income students, English learners and foster youth.

The coalition representing the targeted students can take a lot of credit for leaning on lawmakers and the Brown administration to include the accountability component.

The fact that this group is now looking to get the state to adopt more robust reporting requirements is also significant.

Questions have already been raised about whether LEAS have been using LCFF money properly, especially as it related to salaries and benefits of district employees and capital improvements.

With the improving economy, next year’s state budget is expected to include enough of a boost in education spending to draw the Legislature to within 5 percent of the funding goals set with the adoption of the LCFF. As that benchmark approaches there is some sense there will be greater scrutiny over what LEAs are doing to meet their academic performance goals.

Although LEAs are likely to be given a lengthy transition period before serious intervention is contemplated by either the counties or state, new federal education law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – calls on states to have new accountability systems in place for the 2016-17 school year.

Thus, California officials are planning to have their new plan adopted and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education roughly one year from now.