Bi-Partisan Political Leaders Request Research to Help Guide  K-12 Public School Reforms

What reforms are needed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the school system, and how much should it cost to provide every child in California with a quality education?

These are the questions some of the country’s top education minds will be addressing in an important series of studies entitled “Getting Down to Facts.”  The $2.6 million project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the Stuart Foundation, is designed to carve out common ground for a serious and substantive conversation that will ultimately lead to meaningful reform.

A bi-partisan group of state leaders, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Educational Excellence, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, Senate President pro-Tem Don Perata, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, formally requested the research to help them take action to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing schools and districts.

Conducted over the course of 2005-2006, in a series of 23 studies, researchers will explore three broad questions:

  • What do California school finance and governance systems look like today?  
  • How can we use the resources that we have more effectively to improve student outcomes?
  • To what extent are additional resources needed so that California’s students can meet the goals that we have for them?   

Click here for a four-page summary of the research agenda.

While California has the toughest education standards in the nation, schools have struggled in past years to meet those high standards, in part because of a lack of basic information in many areas to make informed decisions about how to fix the system.  This non-partisan research effort will give Californians and their elected officials a better idea of how the state can most efficiently use its education dollars and how much it will cost to help every child in every school district in the state meet student achievement goals.

 “It is past time for our state to examine the efficiencies of our investment in education and identify the true costs of providing an excellent education to every child, regardless of background or challenges brought to the classroom,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. “In a democracy, we need all of our citizens to be educated to the same high standards. Not all children come to school with equal preparation, but it is our obligation in a democracy to prepare our children equally to succeed in the world.”

“We are extremely pleased that these four leading national foundations have stepped forward to support these ambitious studies and this important work,” said Ted Mitchell, Chairman of the Governor’s Committee on Educational Excellence.  “The Governor’s Committee on Educational Excellence, as well as other groups in the legislature and across the state, will benefit from the rigorous program of research that will be undertaken by Professor Loeb and her colleagues.  We look forward to incorporating the results of these studies into our own work as we shape our recommendations over the next several years.”
“California has the highest educational standards in the nation, and no real idea what it takes to help more students meet them,” said Senate President pro Tem Don Perata. “Our prisons are funded based on need, but our schools are funded with what’s in the cupboard. The question of what is adequate funding to ensure that California students and teachers have the tools they need too often becomes a political football.  I believe the unprecedented, comprehensive and unbiased examination that these foundations are funding will be enormously helpful in shaping state policy to help students and teachers succeed.”

“California has established the nation’s toughest academic standards and set the highest academic goals for our students,” said Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez.  “This independent, nonpartisan research effort is vital in helping the public and the Legislature understand what we will need to invest in public education to reach these standards and goals – and to keep California competitive.”

“From day one, the Governor has made it clear that California’s continued prosperity, as well as our national and international leadership, depends upon the quality of our education system.  That system is in need of fundamental reform and there is no higher priority for me in my role as Secretary for this administration,” said California’s Secretary of Education Alan Bersin. “These studies will help us understand how well we use the resources we currently devote to education, track how much of more than $60 billion actually reaches the schools and classrooms where teaching and learning take place, and clarify the fiscal and other obstacles to providing an adequate education to all Californians.”

 “Any effort to improve California’s public school system must begin with solid research and the engagement of a bi-partisan group of leaders from across the state,” said Marshall Smith, Director of the Education Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. “The Gates, Hewlett, Irvine and Stuart Foundations are proud to support these important studies and we are eager to work toward our shared goal of giving every California student the best possible education.”

By providing a rigorous, independent assessment of the problems and policy options to lawmakers, the education community and the public, these foundation-sponsored studies are an important step toward reform.  The research effort is being coordinated by Susanna Loeb, a noted economist and Professor at Stanford University’s School of Education.  Professor Loeb, who has gained national acclaim for her work on school finance reform, worked in consultation with the four foundations and experts in the field to select the studies that will be conducted by researchers at several institutions.