Professors launch major investigation of California school governance, finance
To help lay the groundwork for reforming California's faltering school system, more than 30 researchers nationwide have launched the largest independent investigation ever of how the state governs and finances education.
Stanford Associate Professor of Education Susanna Loeb, an economist, is leading the $2.6 million effort, titled, "Getting Down to Facts: A Research Project to Inform Solutions to California's Education Problems."
"Much of the research on school finance is driven by litigation," Loeb said. "This effort stands out in its depth and breadth, but also because it is independent and nonpartisan. The consensus is that there has to be some sort of change. We hope that the results of these studies can help to carve out common ground for discussions that can lead to effective change in school finance and governance in California."
The studies aim to identify what reforms are needed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the school system and to assess how much it should cost to provide every child in California with a good education. Statewide, enormous disparities exist in educational quality. And compared with the past, California has fallen far behind. From its position as a national leader in education three decades ago, the state now ranks 48th in student basic reading and math skills, Loeb said.
The project, which was requested by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Committee on Education Excellence, Democratic leaders in the state Senate and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, aims to provide policy-makers with clear information that is needed to assess proposed reforms. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the Stuart Foundation are funding the nine-month effort, which includes more than 20 studies.
"This is the most comprehensive study of school finance for K-12 in the history of California," said Stanford education Professor Michael Kirst, who has worked in state education since 1969 and is participating in the project. "It has more components and dimensions to the study than any other, and it is the most impressive array of researchers from around the nation that has ever been assembled to study school finance in California."
Although Kirst, who was president of the state board of education in 1970s, praised the quality of the project, he was less sanguine about whether it would lead to real change.
"It depends on when these studies come out," he said. "Is the policy window open? Are the stars aligned in that the governor and the legislative leaders are ready to move forward on this? Nobody can predict that. I don't even know who the governor is going to be. So we're just hoping."
In addition to Loeb and Kirst, Stanford participants include Anthony Bryk, the Spencer Foundation Professor of Organizational Studies in Education and Business; Linda Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor; William Koski, the Eric and Nancy Wright Professor of Clinical Education at the Law School; and Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Getting Down to FactsAccording to Loeb, who designed the study, the project asks three broad questions: