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Californias education transformation

Juliana D. Norwood | 8/4/2010, 5 p.m.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell has been very busy recently overseeing the transformation of California's education system.

First, the State Board of Education recently voted to adopt the Common Core Standards which were developed to establish consistent and clear education standards for English language arts and mathematics that would better prepare students for success in the competitive economy.

"The adoption of the Common Core Standards are a great step forward in California's effort to close the achievement gap and prepare all students for college and careers in the 21st century. The standards build upon the best of California's rigorous standards with the best of what other states offer their high performing student," said O'Connell. "California has made significant strides in increasing student achievement, since we implemented a standards-based education system.

However, despite our progress, the achievement gap persists and leaves far too many students of color and poverty behind their peers. I have directed my staff at the California Department of Education (CDE) to develop a timeline and plan for implementing the standards. This will require new curriculum frameworks, innovative instructional materials, richer and deeper assessments and improved accountability measures. I look forward to seeing the results as the Common Core standards are fully implemented in California."

Common Core standards are a set of guidelines that detail what students should know at each grade level.

In addition to California, 34 other states have adopted the Common Core Standards which are now a requirement for success in the Obama administration's Race to the Top (RTTT) school reform competition which brings us to the second key educational achievement.

California was recently selected as a finalist in the competition to receive up to $700 million for education reform efforts as part of the second phase of the federal Race to the Top Competition.
Clovis, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Sanger, and San Francisco unified school districts are the chosen seven that showed their dedication to the transformation of California's education system and preparing their students for college and successful careers.

In addition to the seven districts, more than 300 local education agencies (LEAs) have also pledged their commitment to California's Phase 2 RTTT plan. LEAs represent more than 1.7 million students in California, and they also serve some of the most underprivileged students in the state. More than 67 percent of students in the participating districts are living in poverty.

California's RTTT plan focuses on four key areas that need reform and will hopefully lead to success in improving schools: Adopting the Common Core Standards; recruiting and retaining effective, dedicated teachers and principals; better measuring students success in college and the workforce; and dramatically improving the state's lowest-performing schools.

The plan also includes advancing student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), especially in the kindergarten through eighth grade system.

The third project that Superintendent O'Connell has kicked into motion in recent weeks is to apply for the $416 million in federal funding that is available up for to 2,700 eligible schools, 188 of which are identified as "persistently lowest achieving."

In order to qualify for the funds, the schools must have a quality and realistic ability to turn around these chronically underperforming schools. CDE will review the districts' submissions for the funds which will then have to be approved by the State Board of Education (SBE). The process of approvals began this week. After SBE approvals, the state legislature must approve the authority for CDE to spend the funds, and this process is already pending.

"Educators and schools desperately need the additional resources in this era of continuous cuts to education. Like all involved, my staff and I are eager to notify districts of their funding awards, so when students return to their classrooms, they have the assistance needed to help them soar academically, and their schools have the reforms in place to become centers of achievement," said O'Connell.