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Reflecting on the changing landscape of K-12 education
Scott Siegel

It is said that change is the one constant in our lives. That has become increasingly true in this era of technological and informational advances. We may come to believe that we are accustomed to constant change. However, there are times when there are pivotal, paradigm-shifting changes in which events are measured in terms of "before" and "after." K-12 schools are receiving a double dose of radical changes this year, and we may forever label 2013 in education as a dividing line between before and after. These two events are the complete overhauls of both the way schools are funded in California, and the educational standards used to direct learning, including the accompanying accountability (testing) system.

In June, the legislature passed Governor Brown's plan to link the level of state funding that school districts receive to their percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students and English learners. In doing so, the state scrapped the old school finance system that had been largely in place since Richard Nixon was president. The rationale for this change resides in a quote from Thomas Jefferson that was cited frequently by the Governor as he made his case for the changes: "There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people." Inarguably, students from economically struggling areas such as portions of Los Angeles are more challenging to educate than students from affluent areas such as portions of Orange County, just as students from Ceres require more resources than students from Del Rio. Funding them equally was a grave injustice that is now being corrected.

The new funding model, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), has three main goals. First, and foremost, put more dollars into the hands of school systems whose students have the greatest need. Second, return some measure of local control to school boards and thereby to voters, diverting it away from the State of California and its over-regulation of spending decisions at the local level. Finally, the LCFF intends to simplify what has become an overly complex system of regulations that stifled local decision making.

The challenge in all of this is that the state is not done writing the rules for the LCFF. At this time, we still do not know exactly what the rules will be for the supplemental money given to districts with high poverty and English Language learner rates. That said, Ceres Unified will be working to put these funds to good use in helping to make our students competitive with students from privileged backgrounds and in a global marketplace.

The second change involves the implementation of the Common Core Standards and the accompanying Smarter Balanced Assessments. My eldest daughter has been taking California Standards Tests since the second grade. All she has known in school is the annual springtime ritual of taking multiple choice tests based on the California Standards. Next year, as a junior, she will take the new Smarter Balanced Assessments on a computer. The testing program will adapt to her responses as she demonstrates her level of knowledge with the new Common Core Standards.
The Common Core Standards have received the attention of some detractors who see them as federally driven. They are not. California developed the standards in a consortium with more than 40 other states in an effort to be more competitive with European and Asian students. I have reviewed the standards, and can give assurances that they are rigorous and will demand that students think deeply, at the same time they require a solid base in fundamental skills. We are very excited about making this transition.

As with the LCFF, there are some challenges with the implementation of the Common Core. Final decisions on assessments for this year are still pending (as of this writing, a bill was awaiting signature by the governor to suspend much of the CST testing). Our teachers will require significant levels of staff development. We will need to adopt new instructional materials to replace our aging textbooks, and it is quite possible that some of these materials will be in electronic format. While our students will benefit greatly from these changes, it will be a stressful period as our teachers and students work to implement the new curricula.

Either of these changes by itself, while beneficial, would present challenges. Taking on both at once is extraordinarily daunting and exciting. We do not get to press the pause button to wait for all of the decisions to be finalized and to prepare ourselves. Our students are in classrooms now, and it is imperative that we educate them. This has been likened to rebuilding an airplane while in flight - our passengers are on the plane and we must redesign our finance system, our content standards and our assessments in the air. In the end, I believe our students will reap the benefits of these changes, and we will look back and measure the passage of years in education in terms of before 2013 and after.