Memo: California Quality Education Commission -- Adequacy
With the recent settlement of the Williams case, there remain several questions that the Governor must address. In order to assist in this decision making process, the following will include an assessment of the settlement, its expected impact on student performance, as well as the likely avenues the California Quality Education Commission is likely to pursue with regard to the application of "adequate funding" in pursuit of its reformational goals, as well as a final recommendation concerning the best possible course of action.
When the Williams case was begun, it started as a response to what the California Quality Education Commission regarded as a state crisis in which California schoolchildren are "taught in crummy, overcrowded schools without enough textbooks and trained teachers...(Morrison and Forrester, 2004). Thus, a group of individuals and organizations began the Williams case in order to address the problems of "too many untrained teachers, serious overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and a lack of appropriate and up-to-date materials.
Happily, the case was recently settled, and the full detail of the settlement can be found in the court documents. However, the most important aspects of the agreement are as follows:
Teachers will be qualified according to the needs of each and every student enrolled.
The use of a shortened school calendar as a means to deal with crowded schools will be stopped.
All school facilities will be up to universal standards of cleanliness, repair, and safety -- regardless of local area funds.
Appropriate and fully up-to date textbooks will be supplied for all students in all core subjects.
Funding in the amount of $138 million will be earmarked and fully distributed to help acquire the educational materials -- textbooks, media, equipment, and other supplies -- necessary to bring all schools up to par in core areas.
Core areas are defined as English, language arts, history, social studies, math and science.
Funding in the amount of $50 million will be distributed for miscellaneous costs and other related expenses.
An additional $800 million is earmarked for distribution in future budgets for repair and maintenance of school facilities.
Students will be provided with appropriate instructional material within the first four weeks of each school year.
Individual school districts will be held responsible and accountable for accurate data collection, record keeping, and public reports regarding teaching materials (specifically textbooks), as well as the condition of school facilities.
Recourse is granted to county superintendents or other representatives of the state if the individual districts to not meet required guidelines and expectations (Schwarzenegger.com).
Expected Impact on Student Performance
Although many factors go into the overall level of student performance -- particular as it is measured by standardized testing, there remains significant evidence that student performance can be affected by inadequate materials, overcrowding, under qualified teachers/instructors, shortened school years, as well as overall poor facilities.
In the past, the wisdom regarding the use of out of date textbooks and materials in core subjects has met with some debate. Although some assert that as core subjects, many of the principles remain relatively static, there can be little doubt that many materials can either lapse in content or accuracy over time. Of course, the greatest examples can often be found in the "hard" sciences, as well as the social and political sciences. However, even in the more "static" core areas (at least in the K-12 levels), including mathematics, English, and language arts, there exists a possibility of missing subject focus trends (a factor that can significantly affect test scores and performance), as well as new contributions and methods designed to further student skill-acquisition. Given the fact, then, that out of date materials can adversely affect student performance, it seems clear that providing consistent "across the board" access to current materials will greatly affect student success. Further, if this is the case, it seems all the more important to remedy this particular discrepancy as quickly as possible.
Overcrowding is also an issue that can adversely affect student performance. Even worse, when this is also combined with a shortened school year designed to compensate for the situation, the performance of students -- particularly at-risk, or special education students, can be severely hampered. Of course, the logic here seems to be that with overcrowding, the teacher or instructor simply is stretched too thin to apply the attention necessary to bringing up his or her low-performing students up to par. When the time given to instruction is also reduced, the effect is even greater. Further, when the teacher or instructor is improperly or inadequately trained on top of this, the performance of all students will necessarily be adversely affected.
Additionally, the settlement requirements regarding the repair and maintenance of facilities is also likely to positively affect both student morale, as well as performance (which is often a factor of morale). The simple truth is, if a student is placed in sub-par facilities, those facilities are likely to convey a "message" regarding his or her worth as a member of society. Additionally, the physical effects of dilapidated buildings can be hazardous to student health (especially with regard to allergens, mold, etc.). More sick days often equate to poor performance. Finally, run-down schools are far less likely to attract the most qualified teachers available. This too can affect the morale and performance of the student body.
Of course the actual components that make up the sum of student performance are not so "cut and dry." After all, there remain several components that affect the learning process that are very difficult to measure, assess, or budget for. Some of these may include cultural differences and values, socio-economic factors of student families or social groups, current economic trends, as well as flawed or inappropriate teaching methodology. However, to assume that these "rogue factors" render the above performance factors insignificant would be pessimistic at best.
The California Quality Education Commission:
Likely Funding Decisions.
One of the most interesting terms arising out of the Williams case is that of "adequacy." Indeed, in the CSBA article, "Calculating the Price of Success," author Kristi Garrett notes that, "The discussion about pricing a public education takes a noteworthy turn from equity to adequacy." Of course, here, the question of adequacy is in regard to just "What will it take to get all the state's schoolchildren to graduation in a standards-based education system? (Garrett, 2004)."
In this case, the settlement seems to infer that the key ingredient in the "what it will take" discussion involves discovering how to apply funds in order to assure "adequacy." Specifically, this means deciding how much money will be required to bring sub-standard facilities, materials, and even students (especially the poor, disabled, immigrant, or otherwise disadvantaged) up to the level of their more fortunate California peers.
Although many take the efforts of the Quality Education Commission with a grain of salt, there remains the fact that they have a solid track record in consulting with respected experts and researchers concerning the factors that have a real impact on student performance. Based on this fact, it is highly likely that the commission will assess the funding (from the settlement) based upon these expert recommendations that are adjusted for the "special needs" of the school. This means that "school location, special education, low family income and services for English learners" (all factors identified in their studies) will be factors that determine the distribution of funding to bring performance up to levels of "adequacy." One example of how this might be applied follows:
We're arguing that we're not getting the talent we need, and that we need to pay teachers at a higher level," says Allan Odden, co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, which is working with several states in the process of developing an adequate funding formula. "So you need some labor market studies - what it would take to get and keep them - and we would also argue that you need to change the structure of teacher salary systems... so you pay teachers for developing the instructional strategies that they must have. And when you put all that together, it's gonna cost more money" (Garrett).
Of course, depending upon whom one talks to, the method most likely to be employed in finding and implementing the exact financial strategy is, on some levels, extremely practical. That is, the state will establish universal standards for the main issues (materials, school facilities, logistics, and teacher quality), monitor the compliance in each district, and, depending upon the district's performance, apply sufficient funds necessary to correct areas of identified deficiency (Garrett).
Of course, the actual method of performing this task can be quite complex. However, one way in which this is likely to be done in this case is to utilize what is known as the "professional judgment/model school method," in which a selected panel of faculty and administrators are charged with identifying which services are needed to reach the appropriate level of education.…