The promise of public education is to provide all children with the opportunity to fulfill their potential. That promise is the foundation of the American dream. That promise means that our public schools provide a real shot at a better life, no matter where a student lives or who her or his parents are.
California prides itself as a global center of innovation, creativity, opportunity, and equality. We are the wealthiest state in the nation. We should have among the very best public schools in the country. But the truth is, for too long, our schools have been stuck near the bottom.
In California, 6.2 million students attend our public schools; but, about 3 million of them cannot read or write at grade level1. The situation is especially bleak for our most vulnerable students. Just fifteen percent of low-income African American students in California’s public schools can do math at grade-level2, and only 17% of Hispanic Californians have a college degree, compared with 51% of white Californians— the largest attainment gap in the country3. Given the demands of the 21st century, what does that mean for their future? What chance do they have of truly pursuing the American Dream?
For decades, California’s leaders have failed to do what it takes to dramatically improve our public schools – even as they have taken bold steps on issues like climate change and health care. It is time for California to prioritize public education and commit to renewing its promise for students across California.
This kind of change is possible, but it will only happen if we work together with urgency to make common-sense reforms and tackle difficult challenges.
To make California’s schools among the very best, we need a 10-year plan – with collaboration and cooperation from the governor, legislators, state superintendent, educators, parents, students, labor, business, and community leaders. We have put together the starting point for such a plan here. But we aren’t starting from scratch. Our state has made progress on some areas in our public schools, significant research has been done on everything from brain development to promising classroom practices, and there are good things happening in schools up-and-down our state every day.
This plan seeks to build on that knowledge to present a vision for better public schools for all kids. It is also informed by my fifteen years in public education, working with some of the poorest communities in Los Angeles to build new public schools and to turn around underperforming ones. Read more about that here.
It’s not an exhaustive list of ideas and will need to be further developed with collaboration, insight and guidance from educators, experts and community leaders; and, with support from political leaders and the public.
The plan is organized around four key areas that we believe our public education system needs to prioritize over the next decade:
- Investing in our teachers and principals
- Schools for the 21st century
- A public education system that works for all kids
- Classrooms that are fully funded
California is an incredible state with unique diversity, wealth, and energy. It is time we leverage those and our other considerable strengths to give all children every opportunity they deserve, and finally deliver on the promise of public education.
1“Grade level” in California currently means being prepared for success in post-secondary education.
2“Smarter Balanced Assessment Test Results for the State of California.” State Smarter Balanced Results – CAASPP Reporting, CA Dept. of Education, caaspp.cde.ca.gov/sb2017/ViewReport?ps=true.
3Allison, Tom. 2016 State Report Cards. Young Invincibles Student Impact Report, 2016, 2016 State Report Cards, younginvincibles.org/press-releases/young-invincibles-third-annual-state-report-cards-show-burden-of-disinvestment-in-public-higher-education/.