Ed Finance Watch: Measuring the Way We Progress
Equitable Education Spending

Ed Finance Watch: Measuring the Way We Progress

The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence held their regular meeting on April 7. At the meeting, board members heard from Executive Director Carl Cohen and the rest of the new CCEE on the progress they’ve made. Most notably, the group officially began its technical assistance work in an engagement with Palo Verde School District in Blythe. Over the past two months, the team also met with CDE and CCESSA in a desert retreat, reviewed potential revisions of the LCAP template with the State Board of Education, and discussed capacity building opportunities with the Gates Foundation. Meanwhile, staff continued building relationships with district and county partners, compiling a research base, and reviewing LCAPs to identify best practices. The education team has been developing a vetting process to assess technical assistance partners and ensure that districts spend their capacity building funds wisely. Finally, CCEE has been closely following the progression of SB 871, which would provide significant resources to fund the Collaborative’s work. (The bill is currently awaiting a full fiscal impact assessment).

The board also continued to hear from experts in the field on potential best practices. This month’s meeting included three such presentations. Dr. Laurie Olson from the Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) program discussed a preK-3 model designed to close the achievement gap for English Learners. She attributed the program’s success to the integrated strategy that involves all students and teachers, commitment to the full curriculum, recognition of the full value of bi-literacy and home language, and the focus on oral as well as written skills. Adam Ebrahim presented on his work as a literacy consultant with the Fresno County Office of Education and which aspects of their highly customized training programs could be replicated. Lastly, Katie Breckenridge from the Partnership for Children and Youth shared information on the Summer Matters campaign to combat summer learning loss with high quality programs.

The board also discussed the succession plan for current Chair Sandy Thorstenson, who will be retiring after the June meeting. The Governor’s office is leading the search for a replacement and the board will elect a Chair and Vice-Chair for the remainder of 2016 at their next meeting.

CCEE was created under LCFF to provide technical assistance to school districts and has been meeting to develop a model for their work since 2015.

Advocates, practitioners, legislators gear up for accountability debates

As the State Board of Education (SBE) prepares for a critical meeting in early May, the landscape around them continues to evolve. The Assembly Education Committee approved Assembly Bill 2548, which would give the legislature more leverage in shaping the accountability system currently being developed by SBE. In particular, the bill would be a boon to advocates who have been pushing for the inclusion of measures of school climate. The California Teachers Association and legislative staff both criticized the bill as premature and a potential impediment to the ongoing accountability process.

California Practitioner and Advisory Group (CPAG) met for the first time. The 15-member group was established this year to comply with the new federal education bill and provide state leaders with feedback from teachers and school staff.

Meanwhile, SBE is taking a significant step to bring together special education and general services into a single system. New state accountability measures will apply equally to all students in California across a robust range of measures. The move acknowledges the fact that 70 percent of students in special education programs also qualify for supplemental funds under the LCFF. (Pivot CEO Arun Ramanathan discussed the impacts of the change in a recent blog post).

Advocates push for greater transparency on the use of LCFF funds

Public Advocates released a report this month that claims a large number of districts are not sufficiently justifying the use of the supplemental and concentration grant funding designed to support the state’s high need students. The group filed a complaint against West Contra Costa’s use of these funds to provide an across-the-board raise for teachers.  In general, the guidance has been vague and minimal when it comes to using LCFF funds. Education Trust-West and Californians Together also released reports on the same topic, hoping to get the full attention of SBE.

News from the courts

The Supreme Court issued a tie vote in Friedrichs v. The California Teachers Association, allowing the union to continue to collect agency fees from all employees. The decision may still prompt reassessment of CTA’s future. In California, a divided court determined that the state is not constitutionally required to provide any set minimum amount to provide a “quality” education.

Legislative session heating up

With the legislative season in full swing, lawmakers in Sacramento discussed a number of measures this month with implications for education finance.

  • A large number of bills have been introduced to address the growing teacher shortage in the state, many of which come with a high cost.
  • One bill aiming to remove the cap on school reserves has failed, but six others are still alive that would have the same effect.
  • A new proposal would provide block grants for districts to prepare high school students for the college application process—including funds for AP exams, college counseling services, and preparatory materials.
  • Lawmakers may propose a loan program in the budget proposal to avoid shifting the full cost of school construction to private developers. There has not been a statewide school facilities bond since 2006, and grant funding has been essentially depleted for years. If the State Allocation Board declares the fund truly empty in their May meeting, it will allow districts to levy up to 100 percent of construction costs in developer fees. (A bond on the November ballot has strong support.)
  • Legislators rejected Governor Brown’s proposal for early childhood programs, saying it would set a cap on spending and potentially limit access. In its place, advocates are calling for an $800 million plan for additional preschool and early learning programs.


Leadership Development

What We Built and Why It Matters

As I reflect on our years of work to create Pivot Learning Partners, I am always humbled by what I hear about the large number of adults whose work we’ve influenced and, through them, the much larger number of students whose lives we’ve touched.

At our best, we’ve been able to help create schools that put learning at the center for both children and adults. And, since learning is a fundamental human activity that is fun, challenging, creative and moving, our impact has been memorable for people. All this matters.

As I look back, I’m also struck by something that people rarely note: we’ve done work that matters, but we’ve built an organization that matters as well. Improving our schools is both difficult and, given the rate of change in our society, never-ending.

Both research and experience tell us that large, complex organizations cannot succeed at dramatic improvement without outside help any more than individuals do. Athletes hire trainers, dieters join Weightwatchers, and Fortune 500 companies hire consulting firms. And sometimes – but not nearly often enough – schools and districts hire an outside support provider.

Right now, outside eyes and expertise are more important than ever. No one in a district with a full time job can know enough or can learn fast enough to seize the opportunities represented by the Common Core and Local Control Funding Formula. It makes sense to bring in help that can provide professional development, coaching to help people apply new knowledge and skills, and technical assistance to help people re-think roles, structures, processes, tools and agreements.

Too often, though, districts hire helpers and are disappointed. Professional developers teach what they know rather than what people need; coaches become compliance monitors with checklists; and consultants deliver reports full of recommendations and then depart. Pivot Learning Partners is proud to be a different kind of organization, one that combines the wisdom of experience with cutting edge tools and ideas.

Our network of experienced practitioners and our library of professional development materials allows us to customize the professional development programs we offer quickly and without asking our clients to pay us to reinvent the wheel. Our coaches are able to meet clients where they are, but also develop innovative solutions to the real problems they face.

And our consultants never deliver a report and leave: they stay, helping schools and districts create the new structures, processes, roles, tools and agreements they need to thrive.

Finally, Pivot Learning Partners is a significant example to the field because of our unique business model. Our clients pay the actual cost of the services we provide, while foundation, corporate and individual donors underwrite the costs of program development. Our fee-for-service relationship with our clients ensures that our programs are practical and useful, while our funders help keep us on the cutting edge.

Our dispersed structure for service delivery allows us to cover the state and, since the vast majority of our coaches work on a daily rate basis, we can expand or contract our service delivery capacity quickly as needs shift. Unlike some of our competitors, we are not a government agency and cannot be assigned to take on a compliance role, but instead are free to develop trusted advisor relationships with our partner districts. The model we’ve created works: we contracted through the lean years and are now growing – with the business model intact.

While a lack of competition is convenient for us, in fact schools and districts need more organizations like Pivot Learning Partners.

The situation that districts face today is a particularly cogent example of why: during the financial crisis of the last few years, districts understandably dismantled their improvement infrastructure, cutting back on district-level staff with a focus on curriculum and instruction, sending teacher coaches back to the classroom and postponing investments in technology infrastructure.

Now, they are faced with the imperative to implement the Common Core, rethink budgeting processes and involve communities in new ways, and they are struggling to respond.

Organizations like Pivot Learning Partners can help public education leaders to create improvement infrastructure that is both flexible and sustainable. When I stock of the work we’ve done, I am proud of the impact we’ve had, but equally proud of the organization we’ve created.