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Looking to pivotal 2007 Stanford study for ed reform answers


SIA Cabinet Report, May 2, 2012

Five years ago, an exhaustive study led by researchers from Stanford University took a hard look at how California governs and funds public education. That led to the creation of a gubernatorial blue-ribbon panel and a two-year review process that generated a surprising amount of consensus around key issues.

Then the recession hit and the “Getting Down to Facts” report, as well as the recommendations it spurred from the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence, quietly were set aside.

Tomorrow key players in the reform effort will try to reignite the momentum at a seminar to be held in Sacramento – looking back at what was proposed and offering a perspective about what might be applicable today.

“Five years ago we were in some agreement about what changes were needed,” said David Plank, executive director of the Policy Analysis for California Education – sponsor of Thursday’s event. “Those changes are still needed and we are at a moment when we can remind ourselves that we do not need to reinvent the wheel – we already figured it out once.”

The “Getting Down to Facts” study was an unprecedented $3 million effort taken up at the request of bipartisan leaders including then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Jack O’Connell, at the time the state’s school chief.

Among the key findings was that despite the huge investment California taxpayers were making each year in public schools, far more will be needed. At the time, the additional spending was estimated at $17 billion.

But the researchers warned that just spending more money wouldn’t ensure success –that fundamental changes needed to happen regarding how resources are used. They argued for a comprehensive restructuring of the governance and financing system.

Following release of the study, the governor’s blue ribbon panel held scores of public hearings statewide and eventually released a series of recommendations in November, 2007. They called for the creation of some $10.5 billion in new programs, including teacher incentive pay and universal pre-school.

Early the next year, Schwarzenegger declared 2008 would be the ‘year of education’ – a vision that was all but gone by summer with the collapse of the stock market and much of the world’s economy.

Plank said now is a good time to take another look at the education report and its recommendations.

“It is not as if nothing has happened – but what has is far less than we anticipated might have been possible in 2008,” he said. “And if anything, the situation is more dire now than it was when the studies were conducted and the governor’s committee issued its report.”

The event also will include the release of poll results from a survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California on public attitudes about schools, funding and reforms.

Among the panelists will be Susanna Loeb, one of the led authors of the “Getting Down to Facts” report and the director of the Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice Stanford University.

The event will be held Thursday at the Department of General Services Auditorium, 1500 Capitol Avenue in Sacramento. The program will begin at 1 p.m.

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Editor’s Note: Former State Superintendent Jack O’Connell is now chief education officer at School Innovations & Advocacy, corporate host of the Cabinet Report.