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Executive Director's note: The road not taken 

Fall 2013

As school board leaders, you are like the traveler described in Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken” (also known as “The Road Less Traveled”). The traveler, peering down the road ahead, ponders the untrodden path wondering what lies beyond the bend. This new path we find ourselves on is unfamiliar territory for all of us. Blind curves are ahead on our way to systemic education reform—we don’t have much of the detail we need for implementation nor to navigate its many new accountability provisions. Yet we have to proceed with the resolve to do what is right for all children.

For years, I’ve advocated for changes to the public school funding system on behalf of school districts. In every instance, the underlying reason for advocating for such changes was either to provide the district with more flexibility to better serve its students, or to direct more dollars to the district in order to expand academic opportunities. In many respects, I applaud the conceptual framework of the new Local Control Funding Formula and its intent to focus on those students most at risk of academic failure: children from low-income households, English language learners and foster youth. While this new funding framework may create new opportunities to serve students, the road ahead is fraught with challenges. This is your chance as local governance leaders to travel the road not taken—to actively work to recalibrate the entire educational system to support the success of all students and to initiate lasting reforms that guarantee equity, access and opportunity.

Blind curves ahead

We are charting a new course of radical change—direly needed change—in our long-held practices, budget assumptions, program delivery, resource allocation, professional development practices for teachers, and much more. Reforming the system to ensure equity and opportunity for all students is not a simple task. The new educational delivery systems, practices and accountability measures to support the local governance decision making tied to LCFF will take time to construct and implement. The public must be educated in its complexity and the effort it will take. Challenges and tough choices wait around each new curve in the long road toward full systemic reform.

For decades, many have tried to overhaul our funding system and educational practices to provide educational equity. The hope for broader access to educational opportunities looked promising in the aftermath of the Serrano v. Priest victory in 1975. But with the passage of Prop 13 in 1979 and the funding rollercoaster that followed, our system retreated from that promise. A complete overhaul—though painful and drastic—has been needed to get beyond our systemic dysfunction. LCFF has the potential to be the catalyst for a new beginning, for our system and for the most at-risk students we serve. The stakes are high, not only to take the road less traveled and make the tough choices now,  but to also make the right long-term choices to guarantee opportunity to all future generations of California public school students.

Charting a new course

Many webinars, webcasts, governance briefs, white papers and other resources are already available from CSBA and others to equip you with the information you need to render effective decisions to support the success of LCFF-designated students. These tools are your signposts along this uncharted course. As your association, we are forging ahead to identify the “potholes” in this new road to reform.

One glaring pothole is the distribution of highly qualified teachers to the classrooms that need them most. In her bestselling book “The Flat World and Education,” Stanford University education professor and CSBA Annual Conference and Trade Show presenter Linda Darling-Hammond, Ph.D., said, “In the United States, teachers are the most inequitably distributed school resource.” Darling-Hammond (now also the chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing) believes that “the achievement gap would be much reduced if low-income students were routinely assigned highly qualified teachers rather than those they most often encounter.”

Access to highly qualified teachers and robust academic opportunities can be significant factors in reducing the state and federally defined achievement gap. LCFF provides a renewed opportunity to rethink traditional funding strategies intended to serve students and rebuild classroom environments with experienced, well-trained teachers. In addition, access to STEM, AP and IB courses, arts education and sports, and hands-on learning experiences through regional occupational programs, helps students identify and pursue interests leading to rewarding lives and careers.

The first step along this uncharted course may be to look for ways to replicate your district’s most successful programs and broaden their availability to your students. Looking to CSBA’s annual Golden Bell Awards may be your second step; there you will find other districts’ programs with proven impacts on student learning and the ability to be replicated elsewhere.

Your challenge and opportunity is to take the road less traveled—or, better, the Road Not Taken—to move boldly toward new systemic reforms that support access and opportunity for all students.

I can assure you that it is only then—“ages and ages hence,” as Frost eloquently reminds us—that  generations of Californians will look back at your leadership and marvel at your steadfast conviction to serving all students as exceptional governance leaders. By choosing the road “less traveled by,” you will have “made all the difference.”