New education law will bring flexibility, Sonoma County educators say

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The local impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Thursday, will depend largely on what the state of California decides to do with its newfound authority to hold schools and school districts accountable for their performance.

The new law will take effect for the 2017- 18 school year. It replaces the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, widely considered a failure that didn’t produce higher-achieving schools or students.

That law set strict testing goals and targeted schools that didn’t make prescribed “adequate yearly progress” with various sanctions, principally by placing schools into Program Improvement, a condition that could lead to takeover. In contrast, Every Student Succeeds gives individual states the flexibility to work with districts to improve school performance, as well as to set the standards by which progress is measured.

The law returns “responsibility to the state to really make sure their accountability system is one that will foster improvement, not punishment. I think that’s the main intention of the shift,” said Mickey Porter, Sonoma County Office of Education Deputy Superintendent for Instructional Services.

However, upheavals in the state’s educational landscape make the practical implementation of the new law uncertain, at least in today’s setting.

With the 2010 adoption of the Common Core standards, a new set of academic achievement standards adopted by a majority of states, California dropped the former STAR testing regime. And last March, it suspended the Academic Performance Index, or API, which had come to represent a school’s quality.

Now, with the state still revising the API to take into account the new Common Core standards as well as a new curricular emphasis on college and career readiness, another layer of unknowns has been added to the accountability process.

“In our state right now we don’t even have a way of telling what that would be, because we don’t even have the API anymore,” Porter said. “Our state is in huge flux.”

On a related front is the major change to California’s education financing system, the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, which in 2013 granted school districts considerably more discretion in how they apportion their spending on education programs.

That gave school districts far greater control over their instructional programs — and, as a result, any attempts they made to improve performance.

The new federal Every Student Succeeds law is welcome because it echoes that, other educators said.

“For us as a district, the LCAP (Local Control Action Plan, a part of the LCFF) has really been guiding our work the last couple of years. So having that local control is really powerful,” said Louann Carlomagno, superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.

“The closer to home it is, the better it’s going to be,” she said of the new law.

As education policy analysts dissect the plan, one said it appears California is in a good position to work with it.

“This says, ‘You, state, decide what you want to do.’ Well, in California we kind of decided that a couple of years ago. On the surface, I would say LCAP/LCFF is a good fit with what’s coming,” said Patrick Murphy, director of research at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit research organization.

“But there’s a couple of things we have to figure out before then,” he said.

Those details have to do with how the state defines its measures for school performance, because the new law says states must act to improve the bottom 5 percent of schools.

“You have to have a way to make it possible for schools so they can be compared relative to one another,” Murphy said. “There’s been some talk of multiple performance measures. We’ve got multiple priorities out there. So that’s the missing link at this point. How those details get filled out will be pretty important.”

Staff Writer Jeremy Hay blogs about education at You can reach him at 521-5212 or On Twitter @jeremyhay.

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