“Changing California’s education system will require more money, but the absence of resources does not preclude policy changes that can make a difference for kids. This is the way forward.”
So begins David Plank, Executive Director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), when asked to explain the impetus behind PACE’s most recent report.
The report, released in April and titled “Reforming Education in California: A Guide for Candidates and Citizens,” makes clear policy recommendations in anticipation of California’s state-wide political races.
“This report points the way for reforms that would make a real difference in the performance of schools,” Plank said.
When he first conceived of this report in early 2009, Plank knew he would need an author who could summarize years of research in a short period of time, and who could articulate complex policy in a way that would appeal to a broad audience. Recognizing that Education Pioneers has access to “the brightest minds and people who care about education,” Plank approached the Bay Area program to find this author.
Enter Andrea Mayo (’09 Bay Area), a doctoral student in public administration at Arizona State University. When admitted to Education Pioneers, Mayo recalled that she was “relatively new to K-12 education. Education Pioneers matched me with a project that fit my skill set and gave me a learning experience over the summer.”
With Plank ’s guidance, Mayo translated PACE’s research into an action-oriented report. Given her fresh perspective on the field, she was struck by some of her findings.
“I was surprised by the importance of innovation and local control,” Mayo said. “In other sectors, local control is equated with allowing inequality to persist. In education, though, local autonomy is what’s most needed for equity and reform. This realization was a paradigm shift for me.”
Indeed, the report argues that local innovation is one of three principles that must drive California’s education policy.
As Plank explains, the report’s core principles are clear: “Direct resources where they are needed most. Reduce state regulation and encourage experimentation. Design evaluation systems so that we know what is working.”Though straightforward, these strategies face significant barriers that often stifle innovation.
“Something needs to change in our education system, and the only way we’re going to change the system is to try new things. PACE’s recommendations would give struggling schools the ability to figure out ways to keep teachers, improve outcomes for students and figure out what works well for them,” Mayo explained. “I believe that empowering people is a great way to make policy change. These recommendations are about empowering teachers and principals to make changes.”
Mayo and Plank hope that this report will inspire engaged citizens to challenge candidates for statewide office about how their education platforms will promote innovative approaches to educational challenges.
Plank appeals directly to readers: “Push the candidates for Governor, State Superintendent and the legislature. Evaluate their positions according to the report’s three core principles. Attend candidate meetings and pose this question: ‘In what ways does what you propose lead us to a better system over time?"
To the philanthropic community, Plank’s appeal is similar. “Philanthropy can directly address two of the three principals that guide this proposal: they can support local innovation by investing in policy learning.”
This report has already inspired one person to become an active advocate of education policy and innovation. Mayo shares that she is hopeful about California’s future and far more engaged in advancing education research as a result of her partnership with PACE and Education Pioneers.
“I came into Education Pioneers not sure whether I wanted to focus on education. Now I’m back at school and researching statewide investments in education,” Mayo said. “Education has become a personal issue.”
Bay Area Program Manager