Education Funding Opinion

Calif. Ed Department Reorganizes Into Teams

By Contributing Blogger — April 10, 2017 7 min read
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Previously, we have written about California’s approach to continuous improvement...to becoming a learning state. We noted that this requires rigorous cycles of inquiry and stakeholder engagement for success. Subsequently, we described the CDE’s developing approach to professional learning that supports continuous improvement, building on our team’s internal resources. This brief looks at the kinds of internal organizational changes CDE is undertaking to support our state’s progress meeting Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) priorities. We call this, “Teaming Up For Success.”

Changing Almost Everything

Six years ago California began a transformative journey in public education, traveling on what has become known as the “California Way.”

Our ultimate destination: Successful implementation of the California Standards and the ongoing improvement of student learning. To reach that destination, the work by necessity touches on the entirety of California’s education spectrum, including: standards, funding, accountability, and continuous improvement supports. As State Board of Education (SBE) President Michael Kirst wrote in a 2013 article, “This changes almost everything.”

That same year, the Legislature adopted, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law, the most fundamental overhaul of public education funding in decades, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

With LCFF, the state returned more funding control and decision-making to local school districts, and focused revenues on students who most need support, including English learners, low-income students, and foster youth. Along with their increased autonomy, LCCF requires the development and implementation of Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) by school districts and charters working with their key local stakeholders. LCAPs articulate goals and actions designed to improve student outcomes and align spending decisions with those goals.

The LCFF legislation also directed the SBE to adopt new accountability systems. Parents and educators understand that a single number can’t possibly describe district and school progress, achievements, and areas for improvement. California needs and deserves a better system.

Now it is here: the “California School Dashboard,” now available for field testing, provides an easy-to-use, online accountability tool reporting on school and district performance and supporting improvements.

At the same time that California’s state systems have been undergoing radical change, federal supports for education have been equally transformed. The Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives California the opportunity to streamline local, state, and federal requirements into a single, coherent system for planning, accountability, and continuous improvement and support.

The Challenge

While change has touched nearly every other aspect of California’s education system, our statewide organizational systems still look, for the most part, the same as they did pre-LCFF and ESSA.

These structures are typically vertically organized in top-down systems reflecting the categorical nature of previous state and federal funding support for education. Yet, the LCFF vision calls for new forms of integration, service delivery, and continuous improvement systems that cut across these structures. Effective services for foster youth, for example, should draw upon curriculum, instruction, expanded learning, early education and other supports, all delivered in an integrated fashion.

While LCFF prioritized funding for student populations that need it most, it did not increase overall education funding levels. This means that every dollar allocated to education is precious and must be used as efficiently as possible. This is especially true for the CDE, which has yet to have its funding restored to pre-Recession levels.

And, at CDE, we believe strongly in a team approach. Dialogue and effective collaboration should guide all decision-making and support systems.

To deliver on the promise of LCFF and ESSA, maximize the use of precious resources, and support continuous improvement through effective teamwork, we must look to a future where we rethink how CDE is organized and structured to serve districts, schools and educators. That future must be now.

The CDE Response: Teaming up for Success

CDE’s fundamental department organization chart has remained similar for decades.

We have more than 20 divisions with about 1,400-Sacramento based employees and another 1,000 at other sites in the state. It’s a big team, and six years ago CDE began tapping into the deep reservoirs of knowledge, expertise and experience of all staff members.

This included initial work with “Integrated Action Teams,” which combined staff resources across branches and divisions, focused on outcomes. Key learnings from this work have led to current initiatives with CDE-wide action teams.

One of the best examples is the LCAP Support Team, which includes members from relevant divisions throughout CDE with expertise regarding the ten LCFF priorities. Key accomplishments to date of the LCAP Support Team include supporting the revision of the LCAP Template, adopted by the State Board of Education (SBE) in November 2016. This work reflected the collaborative efforts of SBE staff, the LCAP Support Team, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA), WestEd, and stakeholders throughout the state.

In another example, the 2015 report of California’s Special Education Task Force called for a unified education system in which all children, including students with disabilities, are considered general education students first and foremost. The report envisions general education and special education working seamlessly together as one system designed to address the needs of all students. In order to realize these far-reaching recommendations, CDE formed the One System Action Team, drawing together members with diverse skills and expertise from throughout the department.

With the successful implementation of the California Standards and the improvement of student learning as our ultimate goal, CDE is realigning itself to move from its current structure of five vertical branches to four including accountability support, continuous improvement support, and systems support. The legal and audit branch will remain as currently structured. This change moves “like-to-like” elements together to foster building communities of practice within CDE (see table below).

The work of these branches will be supported by five networked CDE-wide teams: California Support Network, California Leadership Initiative, Integrated Planning Support, One System/Whole Child, and Team Advancement (see table below).

We’re working now to realize full implementation of the new Teaming Up For Success structure by July 1, 2017. It is hard work, but we’re confident that it will propel us to more effective 21st century systems that are more responsive to educators, schools, and districts working to realize the potential of the LCFF.

California as National Lighthouse

California can, and should, serve as a lighthouse for the nation as we continuously improve our public schools. To make this progress, we must organize each of our organizations to meet the challenge of this new era, to support our own constituencies and each other. It is simply not realistic to expect systems and organizational structures organized for different needs and times to meet 21st century expectations.

CDE has started by looking inward to identify the resources, find the ways, and build the teams necessary to support continuous improvement. We encourage all County Offices of Education (COEs), LEAs, intermediaries, statewide associations, and others to join us to reflect and act on our how we should all be best organized and best serve our state’s children.

We know that the need for continuous improvement activity in our schools and districts far outstrips the available financial resources. Our ability to successfully implement the California Standards, California’s education success, hinges on new forms of networked support systems. It’s an old story in public education, too few dollars stretched thin, but today’s solutions must involve new approaches. Let’s start with a focus on our most available resource—ourselves.

New educational systems require new thinking and new forms of organization. California has already redesigned finances, standards, accountability, and more. But our new systems will function best when we support each other effectively at all levels. Ultimately, we envision a California Support Network, comprised of organizations and networks statewide that provides ready access to the supports and resources needed for ongoing continuous improvement in districts and schools. This is the kind of Teaming Up For Success, our children need and deserve.

(Tom Torlakson is California’s superintendent of public instruction. Glen Price is a chief deputy of the California Department of Education.)

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