SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 24, 2006 — Local school leaders favor the tough academic standards California has set for its public schools and are optimistic about their students’ potential, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). But although educators agree that the high standards are beneficial, this final report in a three-part PPIC series provides additional evidence that the resources provided do not match the state’s high expectations for student performance.
The first two studies found that – following the school reforms of the late 1990s – California has some of the highest academic standards in the nation but provides its schools with some of the fewest resources, that school principals agree more resources are needed but are far from consensus about how they should be used, and that low-income students consistently under-perform other students even though they receive additional resources.
While these policy challenges persist in this study, the authors also find evidence in favor of the state-imposed system: Educators believe in the high standards. Responses to the study’s interviews and surveys of superintendents and teachers from 49 schools in 22 districts indicate that superintendents overwhelmingly embrace the standards regimen. Teachers are more ambivalent but still supportive: Few (12%) believe the standards can never be achieved, while most believe they are difficult to achieve (39%) or can definitely be achieved (39%).
“Educators seem eager to implement the state’s policies for achieving superior student performance,” says PPIC research fellow Heather Rose, who co-authored the study with PPIC senior fellow Jon Sonstelie, and Ray Reinhard, currently the California Assistant Secretary for Education Policy in the governor’s administration. “This kind of belief in the fundamentals is key to eventual progress.”
So what are the challenges? One, educators say, is that the state’s system makes it difficult for districts to deal with the socioeconomic disparities that affect academic achievement. Currently, to give more resources to low-income schools, superintendents – who answer to the state and to local voters – have to make the decision to give some schools in their districts more money than others. “It’s tough to convince parents, even in affluent areas, that additional funds should go only to low-income schools when they believe their own schools are poorly financed compared to schools in other states,” says Rose. “It may not be politically realistic to make local superintendents responsible for such choices.”
Another challenge for the standards-based system is deciding exactly how additional resources should be used. The report’s teachers and superintendents point to a variety of resource deficiencies – an indication of the complexity of this question. Teachers perceive staffing shortages as troublesome: about 40 percent believe their school has inadequate behavioral counseling, health services, and technology support staff. Superintendents consider staff professional development – including giving teachers more time to meet and collaborate about how to best achieve the state’s standards – to be a key issue. Indeed, if superintendents had additional funding, 10 out of 19 say they would spend part of it on such development.
The study, School Resources and Academic Standards in California: Lessons from the Schoolhouse, was supported by funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.