What is the one thing that could be done to improve educational opportunity in California? Mark Baldassare, PPIC’s president and CEO, posed this question at the start of his conversation with Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges.
Darling-Hammond responded with a list of five major characteristics of school systems in other countries and states that have closed “opportunity gaps”: an equitable, adequate funding system; high-quality teachers and leaders; a thoughtful curriculum and assessment system; wrap-around support for students; and schools designed to allow for productive learning.
Then she circled back to California’s “number one thing”: “We’ve got to fix the teacher shortage—and we’ve got to do it quickly, purposefully, and soon.”
For Oakley, the “one thing” is to change “how we look at education, how we look at opportunity in California.” In short, we need to stop providing “the least amount of resources to the students, the communities that need them the most.”
A key part of this change involves “blurring the line” between the K–12 (or “TK–12”) and community college systems. Oakley noted: “There was a point in time when we felt that a high school diploma was the default to get into the workforce. Those days are gone. . . .We need to see the path to community college as the required path for everybody to get some sort of post-secondary credential.”
Darling-Hammond agreed that the two systems can and should work together. A good example of productive collaboration, she added, is concurrent enrollment, which allows high school students to take college courses (and earn college credit). These programs help students “find their passion” and move toward meaningful careers.
Funding is another key issue for both systems. Darling-Hammond pointed to the impact of significant post-recession increases in funding during the Brown and Newsom administrations and the potential impact of the governor’s commitment to early childhood education. But, she added, “just to get to the national average . . . we need about $12 billion more in the TK–12 system.”
Oakley agreed that “for those of us who managed our way through the recession, we’re certainly in a much better place.” The community college system could certainly benefit from more funding, he added, but state investments in early childhood education might be even more beneficial: “If we could prioritize the funding at the lowest level, for the youngest learners, that would make our job in the community colleges easier.”