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New agency could play critical role in improving California schools

California's legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown departed from the prevailing approach to school accountability with a major education finance measure approved in 2013.
California's legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown departed from the prevailing approach to school accountability with a major education finance measure approved in 2013.

New agency could play critical role in improving California schools

A report from two Stanford scholars examines key elements of the education accountability system now being enacted by the state.

The success of sweeping changes in California’s education system may depend on how well a new state agency shoulders the mission of helping struggling schools and school districts, according to a report, released Jan. 20, by Stanford Graduate School of Education policy experts.

The agency, the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE), was established as one element in comprehensive school finance legislation, passed in 2013, that aims to channel more of the state’s education funds to the students with the greatest needs. This measure also provides local school districts with vastly more control over their spending of state money.

As part of this shift in California’s education landscape, the state is leaving the old model of school accountability — heavily reliant on standardized tests and government-imposed sanctions — for a new one with more flexibility and collaboration.

“The CCEE is supposed to be a cornerstone of this new accountability system,” said Linda Darling-Hammond), the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford and the paper’s co-author. “While the CCEE is responsible for ensuring that the state’s most troubled schools get useful assistance  — and other schools have support for continuous improvement — there has been virtually no public discussion of what the CCEE should look like, let alone how it should carry out these important tasks.”

That could change soon. The five members of the CCEE board will hold their first meeting next month. In nine months, they must submit a plan detailing the agency’s staffing, its operations and the role it will play in the coming years.

“We wanted to start the conversation about CCEE’s significance in California’s move to a more decentralized, locally-controlled education system, backed up by support from the state,” said David Plank, professor (research) of education at Stanford and the paper’s other author. “Up until now, the CCEE has been an unclaimed though potentially powerful resource.”

Darling-Hammond, who is faculty director of Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), and Plank, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), wrote the report with research assistance from Soung Bae, a policy analyst at SCOPE. Darling-Hammond also serves as chair of the state’s teacher credentialing commission. The report, a joint project between the two centers, was made possible by funding from the Stuart Foundation.

 The report describes the CCEE as the agency of last resort for troubled schools and school districts looking to improve their performance: It’s where they should turn for help if local and regional agencies are unable to move them onto a path of continuous improvement.

If the CCEE is to meet this mandate, it must grow into a central hub of education expertise in research and practice, write Darling-Hammond and Plank.  They call on its board to retain top practitioners and researchers as the agency’s core staff, who will develop and review strategies for helping troubled schools and school districts. They say that the current budget of $10 million will almost certainly fall short of the resources that will be needed to cover the CCEE’s efforts to enable local schools and districts to improve, particularly after the loss of funding for programs supporting professional learning for teachers and administrators.

The report emphasizes that the agency should use current public resources and partner with existing institutions to expand its capacity to provide effective technical assistance, and to avoid creating a new top-down bureaucracy. It should incorporate local educators into its activities, involving them, for example, in conducting reviews and offering assistance to schools and districts outside their own.

Much of the report covers elements other than the CCEE that will be needed to create a cycle of continuous improvement in K12 education. For instance, the authors call for a statewide reporting and information system to allow better assessment of schools’ and students’ performances. Among other things, the report also examines the need to use multiple criteria in school reviews rather than relying on one index.

“Tossing a mix of apples, oranges, spinach and chocolate chips into a blender may produce an edible mixture, but once the ingredients are blended it is virtually impossible to distinguish them from one another or to know how each one influenced the final result,” the report states. “A single index that blends multiple measures of school performance is a poor tool for guiding planning or improvement.”

Darling-Hammond and Plank write that the state should develop a coherent approach that places its multiple priorities for schools in a unified accountability system; this could be augmented with local measures from school districts. They emphasize that the statewide evaluation rubric would not dictate local action. “Local districts can be accountable for results only if they can use their best judgment about how to achieve them,” the report states.

In addition to the report, Darling-Hammond and Plank were organizers of a Jan. 20 conference, “Beyond API: Rethinking Accountability in the LCFF/LCAP Era,” in Sacramento. Members of the CCEE board were featured as speakers. For more information, please visit:

Both PACE and SCOPE are housed at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

PACE is an independent, non-partisan research center run by University of California at Berkeley, University of Southern California, and Stanford. It seeks to define and sustain a long-term strategy for comprehensive policy reform and continuous improvement in performance at all levels of California’s education system, from early childhood to post-secondary education and training. For additional information, visit

SCOPE fosters research, policy, and practice to advance high-quality, equitable education systems in the United States and internationally. Learn more about SCOPE at or @scope_stanford.

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