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Local Decisionmaking in California’s Schools

Niu Gao February 18, 2015

California schools and districts are in the early stages of implementing the state’s new school finance system, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The new system involves much more than a new way of allocating state money to schools. At the heart of LCFF is the handing over of decisionmaking power to local districts—as well as responsibility for meeting the state’s educational goals. Results from the California sample of the national Schools and Staffing Survey (1999‒2011) point to some of the challenges the state will have in implementing the new system.

Goals. LCFF prioritizes student achievement, as measured by scores on standardized tests, performance in Advanced Placement exams, and college and career readiness. However, the Schools and Staffing Survey indicates that principals put more weight on basic literacy than on advanced skills such as academic excellence and college readiness. In other words, principals seem to be setting a lower bar, and aligning their goals with the state’s priority areas is going to be a challenge.

  • More than half (54%) of principals see building basic literacy skills (reading, math, writing, speaking) as their most important goal. This view is slightly more prevalent among principals of elementary schools, schools with high percentage of minority students, and urban schools.
  • College and career readiness—one of the eight LCFF priority areas—is not a big priority for principals, even in middle and high schools. Just 2 percent of principals consider college preparedness to be their most important goal and just 4 percent prioritize occupational or vocational skills.

Parental involvement. The law requires that parents be involved in LCFF planning and implementation. However, very few schools involve parents in their decisionmaking processes. A real cultural shift will be required to engage parents in a meaningful way.

  • Most schools rely on open houses, parent-teacher conferences, and special subject-area events to communicate and interact with parents.
  • Very few schools involve parents in school instructional planning—for example, developing learning activities or soliciting feedback on curriculum. And few schools involve parents in governance—through PTA or PTO meetings or parent booster club—or budget decisions. Urban schools are the most likely to engage with parents, but parental engagement is going to be a significant challenge, particularly in large and rural schools.
  • Only half of schools have staff assigned to work on parental involvement—this is more common in schools with high percentages of minority students and schools in urban areas.

LCFF is an ambitious overhaul of California’s school finance system, designed to help districts meet clear educational goals. As the results of the Schools and Staffing Survey show, successful implementation is going to require major cultural changes in schools throughout the state.

TOP CHART SOURCE AND NOTE: Schools and Staffing Surveys (1999‒2011).”Secondary” includes both middle schools and high schools. High minority schools have student populations that are more than 75 percent minority; in high-poverty schools, more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Bottom chart source: Schools and Staffing Survey (2011).
BOTTOM CHART SOURCE AND NOTE: Percentages reflect principals’ responses to the following question: “What percentages of students had at least one parent or guardian participating in the following events?”

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