Budget & Finance Opinion

New State Accountability Plan Is Only One Among Many

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — June 30, 2014 4 min read
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Superintendent Mike Hendricks sits at his conference table surrounded by the plans and accountability reports that his 5,300-student district in suburban Los Angeles County produces. In front of him is a new one, the Local Control and Accountability Plan.

In theory the LCAP, as the new accountability plan is called, is supposed to refocus the energy of the Charter Oak Unified School District, and form a tight triangle with the state’s new funding system and its instructional reformation around Common Core standards. In practice, the LCAP runs the danger of being just one more of a stream of plans that districts have to produce.

Hendricks presents a list of 12 other plans that are either required by the state or which are part of the district’s internal processes. For example, The Local Education Agency Plan is required by the California Department of Education, and the Title III plan for English Language Learners is sent to the Los Angeles County Office of Education for approval. (It’s huge and requires more than two weeks of a cabinet level administrator’s time to produce.)

And as the pitchman says on TV; there’s more: the Single Plan for Student Achievement, which each of Charter Oak’s 10 schools must produce for state compliance purposes, and the BTSA consortium plan, the ROP consortium plan, a facilities plan, and a deferred maintenance plan. And there is even more.

This is not necessarily good news for the state’s reform agenda. The LCAP is a complex evaluation process intended to make budgets strategic documents for school districts rather than compliance instruments. It is the state’s alternative to a single-measure, single number accountability system anchored in a standardized test.

Instead, the legislature established priority areas, each with multiple indicators, some mandated by the state and others left to school district definition. (State agencies, education associations, interest groups, and education watchdogs have weighed in heavily with advice about how to manage the LCAP.) The eight priority areas:

  • Student achievement, which includes scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests that were field tested this spring, and also a fistful of measurements, including the extent to which students are prepared for college and the pass rate on the Advanced Placement exam.
  • Student engagement, including graduation rates, absenteeism, attendance, and dropout rates.
  • Other student outcomes the district chooses.
  • Parental involvement.
  • Basic services.
  • Implementation of the Common Core standards for all students.
  • Course access.
  • School climate.

To make the LCAP viable, district administrators, school boards, and their communities need to focus on its indicators and make them visible goals. It’s harder when attention is scattered to other plans and reporting requirements; it diverts the necessary political and administrative attention.

The Charter Oak LCAP illustrates. Following staff work, board study sessions, and community meetings, the district produced an 117-page accountability plan. Each metric was linked to a goal, an applicable group of students, and budget allocations. Often these were linked by reference to other district plans and reporting requirements. Some allocations were dictated by a civil rights case known as the Williams decision, others by the requirements of a facility bond that voters in the district passed two years ago. Hendricks’ job is to harmonize all these requirements and commitments.

The LCAP plan itself responds to a complex design template. The district pledges to increase most achievement metrics by 5% year, a reasonable upward pace. But the language of the plan itself is largely ed-speak: “Maintain compliance with Education Code 51220 and 51210 subdivision (a) to (i) inclusive. Improve CASSP scores by 5%.”

It’s hard to build parent and community engagement around that language, so Hendricks produced a, still wordy, slide show that was used in community meetings: ten goals, a lot of bullet points, and some shaded areas where new resources were to be spent.

Charter Oak spends upwards of 85% of its budget on personnel, so paying people and allocating their time is the fundamental decision. A significant amount of new revenue will support salary increases, something employees haven’t seen since 2007.

The district will buy a new math curriculum to match the Common Core. And it is investing heavily in technology and professional development, as earlier posts about the district explain.

Several of the plan details responded to community interests. “We are keenly sensitive to what the community wants to see,” Hendricks said. Charter schools and the possibility of inter-district transfer provide real options in his suburban school district, 25 miles east of Los Angeles. “Families can request permits to attend other districts; we want to have programs that attract and return families.”

The district is going to continue to offer the International Baccalaureate program at Charter Oak High School, including professional development support for teachers and intervention support for at-risk students. It will expand career and technical education programs and spread family literacy classes throughout the district. Translators will be provided at parent workshops and forums.

These don’t always line up as Hendricks noted with substantial understatement, “The list of hopeful things exceeds the revenue coming in.”

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