Envisioning California 2018: Art and the Public Good




Envisioning California Keynote Panel

On Thursday, October 4 the Center for California Studies hosted the 29th annual Envisioning California Conference at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in downtown Sacramento. This year the conference topic was Arts and the Public Good and inspired spirited discussions and performances related to all forms of art, music, performance, education, and engagement which serve to enhance the world around us. Conference panel topics included: Arts Education in California’s K-12 Schools, Creative Arts Programs in the California Justice System, Arts and Social Policy in California, and Higher Education and the Creative Economy.


A very special thank you to our keynote panel moderator, Dennis Mangers, Strategic Advisor for Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy to Sacramento Mayor, Darrell Steinberg, and our keynote panelists, Kristin Sakoda, Executive Director, LA County Arts Commission; Dr. Roberto Pomo, Professor, College of Arts and Letters at Sacramento State; and Dr. Steven Winlock, Executive Director, Sacramento County Office of Education, Leadership Institute for such an invigorating conversation during the lunch hour.

At the conclusion of the keynote panel, attendees were invited to visit vendors such as the Crocker Art Museum, local art organizations, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation among others to learn more about art based initiatives in the Golden State.

The Center was thrilled with the level of enthusiasm of attendees and support from the arts community.

We look forward to October 2019 when we will host the 30th Envisioning California Conference – a milestone indeed.



Welcome to the new Senate Fellows Director, Jamie Taylor


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Jamie Taylor, Director, California Senate Fellows Program

Jamie Taylor worked nearly two decades in the State Capitol where he had a front-row seat on the inner workings of the State Legislature and what it takes to make politics and government work.


This week Taylor takes all that experience and knowledge to a dream job at the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State: the new Director of the Senate Fellows Program of the renowned Capital Fellows Program.

Taylor will be the 12th Senate Fellows Director in the history of the program and he assumes his new role after serving as the principal file clerk in the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, where he developed a reputation for working well with both sides of the aisle. In describing his experience in the State Capitol, Taylor talks about transparency, the importance of understanding process and procedures, and about having a strong sense of ethics and the need to develop working relationships.

“This is a great opportunity to take my knowledge and experience and work with people who want to make a difference in politics and public service,” Taylor says. “If we come from a place of belongingness, we can develop a politics built on trust that will work for everyone.”

That’s the philosophy the native Northern Californian will impart as he steps into the role of mentoring this fall’s incoming 18 Senate fellows, the 46th class of the Senate Fellowship Program.

“I think it’s important to have a sense of who we are as a nation – that we all have similar inclinations to live in a peaceful world, have good education for our kids and live in healthy communities,” Taylor says, explaining his approach to establishing working relationships across the board.

He said he especially looks forward to mentoring high-achieving fellows in regard to their soft skills, which he says are crucial in developing strong working relationships in a political environment.

“I always saw the opportunity to work with new employees to help them develop their soft skills, which are needed at the highest levels – teamwork, adaptability, ethical judgment, being a problem-solver and being accessible,” he says. “And you need to be resourceful in reaching out and developing relationships, even across party lines.”

A graduate of Skyline High School in Oakland, Taylor went on to attend Mesa Community College before going on to San Diego State, where he earned a degree in Africana Studies. In 2017, Taylor earned a master’s of science in law from the McGeorge School of Law.

“I spent my formative years in Oakland and that had a real impact on my life,” Taylor says, adding that he learned values of accountability and diversity. “I look forward to helping and supporting Senate fellows and getting them acclimated and successful in the Capitol community.”

Capital Fellows Alum: Where are they now?


Erika Rickard, 2005-06 Judicial Fellow

Erika Rickard is the Senior Officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts new Civil Justice Innovation Project.

After graduating from Mills College in 2005, Rickard was a judicial fellow based in the research and planning department at the San Francisco Superior Court. Her experience in the capital fellows program launched her career in judicial administration and access to justice. She graduated from Harvard Law School, cum laude, in 2010, and clerked for the Honorable Cynthia Cohen on the Massachusetts Appeals Court. After her clerkship, Rickard became an Assistant Attorney General at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, representing state agencies in trial and appellate practice. She later became the state’s first Access to Justice Coordinator, where she developed and implemented new policies and programs in the areas of language access, technology, and resources for people navigating the court system without a lawyer. She left the Massachusetts courts to join the Access to Justice Lab, a research center focusing on conducting rigorous research on access to justice and court administration at Harvard Law School.  She is also a commissioner on the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

Rickard’s professional path has been taking different approaches to understand the role of the court in addressing (or compounding) people’s problems, and the complex challenges with navigating court administration – all issues that she first became aware of as a judicial fellow.

“My time in the San Francisco Superior Court completely shaped my professional identity. The mentorship I received from Sally Piña in the research department, and the network of thought leaders in court administration, continue to influence the ways that I think about and approach ideas of organizational change within the civil justice system.”

Spring Executive Director Message

As the new Executive Director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State, I am excited about the many possibilities, programs and opportunities to develop further the good work we do here at the Center.  A key focus of mine is Title IX.  This year marks the 46th anniversary of the passage of the Title IX, the landmark federal education law that established the rights of women to participate fully in all educational programs.  Title IX states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial aid. 

In this era of the MeToo movement, educators and administrators are reflecting on our implementation of this law, and what more we can do to further its fulfillment.  The Center for California Studies is an important part of this discussion.  Our four fellowship programs provide highly-motivated individuals with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn on the job at high levels in our state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches.  Our obligation to fulfill Title IX compliance in these fellowship programs is no less important and no less challenging, than in a classroom setting.

As the Executive Director of the Center, I take this obligation very seriously.

I am honored and excited to be in this new role, at such an august organization, with its rich history, on the growing and dynamic Sacramento State campus. In the coming months, I hope to talk to members of the university and Capitol communities about new ways for the Center to fulfill its role as a bridge between academia and government.  One of the programs run by the Center is the Faculty Research Fellows Program, which provides research grants to CSU faculty on topics chosen by policymakers.  This program has the potential to help meet the growing demand from policymakers for information and policy research; I hope to be able to better utilize this program in the service of this goal.

I look forward to working with members of the CSU and the Capital community, as the Center embarks on a new chapter.  Please visit the Center’s website, www.csus.edu/calst for updates on the Center and its programs.

Capital Fellows Alumni: Where are they now?


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Terra Thorne, 2009-10 Judicial Fellow

Terra Thorne is the director of the California Education Policy Fellowship Program, a 10-month professional development initiative that brings together 20 leaders to explore critical issues in education policy. The program is jointly administered by the Education Insights Center (EdInsights) and the Center for California Studies. She also leads professional learning opportunities for the CSU Student Success Network, an independent community of practice facilitated by EdInsights. The convenings that Terra designs bring together faculty, staff, and administrators from throughout the CSU to connect around shared issues of practice and improve on progress for students in key areas.


She credits her time as a Judicial Fellow (2009-10) as the inspiration for the capacity building work she does now. “The Fellowship was a gateway into public service and it opened doors for me that I never dreamed possible. As a Fellow placed in the Butte County Superior Court, I had the distinct privilege of working with influential leaders both at the local and state level, and the ability to explore the ins and outs of our justice system. I learned so much from my mentors, my colleagues at the court, and my peers in the program – the relationships I formed during that time continue to shape me today. At the conclusion of the fellowship, I knew I wanted to pursue a path in life that would allow me to pay that experience forward.”

Following her time as a Fellow, Terra served as an analyst for the Butte County Superior Court, interim director for the Judicial Fellowship Program and director of the LegiSchool Project, a statewide civic education collaboration between the Center for California Studies and the State Legislature that creates opportunities for students and state leaders to meet and share ideas on the problems affecting Californians. After 5 years at the Center for California Studies, Terra transitioned into her current role where she feels honored to be able to provide professional learning opportunities for leaders in education.

Bottom-up Practice Reform Meets Top-down State Policy Change

By Thad Nodine, Senior Fellow, Education Insights Center


What a difference a year can make. In February 2017, Katie Hern, co-founder of the California Acceleration Project (CAP), spoke with the inaugural cohort of the California Education Policy Fellows Program (EPFP) about the challenges of reforming developmental education statewide from the bottom up—after working campus by campus for almost a decade to spur changes in a system of 114 California Community Colleges (CCC). When she met with the second cohort of EPFP Fellows a year later, the policy landscape had changed, due to the passage of AB 705 (Irwin) by the California Legislature. That measure requires the community colleges to implement reforms in developmental education to “maximize the probability” that a student will “enter and complete transfer-level coursework in English and mathematics within a one-year timeframe.”

It is too soon to know the effects of AB 705, but Hern’s story provides a textbook case of bottom-up practice reform setting the stage—through research, data sharing, and networking—for state policy relief in higher education. Her story also provides an example of the conversations taking place at EPFP, which aims to support the development of a new generation of education leaders working in K-12 and higher education and across the research, practice, and policy arenas to examine statewide challenges and opportunities in education.

CAP is a faculty-led professional development network co-founded in 2010 by Hern, an English professor at Chabot College, and Myra Snell, a math professor at Los Medanos College. CAP’s approach blends professional development and technical assistance to give community college faculty the tools and materials they need to implement new practices at the college level or in the classroom. This work has coincided with a groundswell of research examining the impacts of existing developmental (also known as basic skills) education practices on student persistence, completion, and equity.[*]

But even as many researchers and educators were examining developmental education practices, it was Hern, Snell, and others associated with CAP who traveled California to share updated research findings with colleagues in English and math departments throughout the community college system. As they did so, CAP gathered data and supported colleges to implement reforms that accelerated students’ progress through college-level coursework. Most recently this has included working with colleges to:

  1. Broaden placement policies through the use of multiple measures and other strategies so that student readiness for college-level, credit bearing, coursework would not be gauged solely on one placement assessment; and
  2. Implement co-requisite models so that students identified as underprepared can enroll in a transfer-level course with extra concurrent support, and thereby earn transfer-level credits in math and English within their first semester or year.

At campus-based and regional workshops, Hern and Snell made the case that community colleges were placing far too many students into remediation who did not need to be there. They shared data from colleges that had broadened their placement policies and had seen jumps in the completion of college English and math within a year. They shared growing evidence of student success from programs, campuses, and states that were no longer offering stand-alone remedial courses in English and math, and instead offering co-requisite courses that provide students with additional support. For example, Tennessee’s public colleges and universities stopped offering stand-alone remedial courses in English and math in fall 2015, and found that the share of students who completed the transfer-level course increased significantly (see figure), even among low-scoring students on the ACT placement test. In addition, opportunity and outcomes gaps in Tennessee narrowed as students of color and low-income students experienced the largest gains.

Statewide Co-Requisite Implementation

Fall 2015: Tennessee Board of Regents

Source: CAP, Spotlight on Co-requisites: Tennessee, http://accelerationproject.org/Spotlights/Spotlight-on-Corequisites-Tennessee.

As Hern, Snell, and others shared these findings over several years, some English and math departments adopted reforms, but many were unconvinced that their own policies needed to change. CAP continued building its case for reform and focusing on campuses as the unit of change, but it also began expanding its outreach. The conversation Hern had in February 2017 with the first cohort of EPFP Fellows, most of whom were not community college practitioners, brought a variety of perspectives to the table. Two of these Fellows, Laura Metune and Dr. Daisy Gonzales, ended up impacting the development of AB 705 through their professional capacities. During the fellowship year, Metune was vice chancellor for external relations at the CCC Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO). Gonzales was principal consultant to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The bill was authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin who had been championing basic skills reform for several years and it was sponsored by The Campaign for College Opportunity, which took the lead building support among legislators, the governor’s office and partner organizations.

The goal of AB 705, according to the CCCCO, is “to ensure that students are not placed into remedial courses that may delay or deter their educational progress unless evidence suggests that they are highly unlikely to succeed in the college-level course.” In effect, AB 705 flipped the burden of proof onto those seeking to maintain traditional developmental education programs, since recent evidence from a variety of sources appears to show the efficacy of using multiple measures (including high school grade point averages) to identify students needing additional assistance in math and English, and of developing co-requisite models for helping those students earn transfer-level credit within their first year.

The theme of the most recent EPFP weekend, in February 2018, was the relationship between policy development and implementation in education. Two panels explored policy reforms in K-12 schools and in the California State University. In addition, Hern shared a panel with Metune focusing on the community colleges. A year earlier, Hern had discussed the struggles of working to implement bottom-up change in the largest system of higher education in the nation. At this convening, she and Metune talked about bottom-up practice reform meeting top-down state policy change, with Hern’s work and AB 705 as a case study. They also turned to the new challenges now facing the CCC: building capacity for using multiple measures and implementing co-requisite models for English and math classes, and analyzing outcomes to track and improve student success over time.

California EPFP is jointly administered by the Education Insights Center and the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State. Applications for the 2018-19 cohort are now available at the California EPFP website.

[*]For example, three years before CAP was founded, the RP Group released “Basic Skills as a Foundation for Success in the California Community Colleges,” popularly known in the CCC as the Poppy Copy. The report prompted many community college faculty and staff to rethink their basic skills programs, and many of these faculty and staff began sharing strategies and ideas through the RP Group’s annual Strengthening Student Success Conference. In 2010, Andrea Venezia, Kathy Reeves Bracco, and I released the findings of a study of students’ perceptions about their matriculation experiences in the CCC, called One Shot Deal (WestEd). We found that students viewed their assessment and course placement process as an isolated event about which they had received minimal advance information—yet which affected the cost of their program of study and their likelihood of completing a degree. Also during this time, the Community College Research Center (CCRC) was releasing national studies on rethinking and accelerating developmental education in community colleges. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was developing and implementing Math Pathways.


Capital Fellows Alumni: Where are they now?



Armilla Staley- Ngomo, Judicial Fellow class of 2003-04

Armilla Staley-Ngomo is committed to social justice and criminal defense. After graduating from Whittier College with a B.A. in Spanish and Political Science, she served as a Judicial Fellow for the Planning & Research Bureau of the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland from 2003 to 2004. Armilla then continued working as a Policy Analyst for the Bureau for a year before attending law school at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law from 2005 to 2008. During law school, Armilla participated in several clinical programs, including the California Asylum Representation Clinic, the Juvenile Hall Outreach Program, and the Death Penalty Clinic. She was also an editor of the California Law Review and the Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy, and participated in several minority student groups and organizations.

“The Judicial Fellowship undoubtedly helped foster my commitment to public service. During the fellowship, I was given the opportunity to help structure and implement several court-community outreach programs, such as the Bench-Bar Speakers Bureau, the East Bay Stand Down, and the Homeless and Caring Program, among other annual events and court visits. The goal of the programs was to help increase the public’s understanding and knowledge of the judicial system, as well as to address some of the legal barriers confronting Alameda county residents. The fellowship served as the foundation for my continued interest in serving and supporting some of our most underserved and vulnerable communities—particularly undocumented immigrants, monolingual Spanish speakers, and criminal defendants—with the highest level of legal representation, respect, and dignity.”

Armilla is currently an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the Central District of California in Los Angeles and Santa Ana. She started her federal public defender career as a trial attorney in 2010. As a trial attorney, she provided every aspect of written and oral legal representation to indigent individuals charged with federal criminal offenses for three years. After the birth of her daughter, Armilla began working as a post-conviction attorney for indigent individuals who were convicted of life sentences and/or the death penalty. As a habeas attorney, she currently works on all stages of capital and non-capital litigation, from pre-petition investigation through United States Supreme Court proceedings and clemency. Prior to becoming a federal public defender, Armilla worked as a litigation associate at Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, PC, a litigation boutique in Los Angeles, and Morrison & Foerster LLP, a large law firm in San Francisco. She was also a judicial clerk for the Honorable Consuelo Bland Marshall, U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California.

Armilla was raised in Madrid, Spain and Las Vegas, Nevada, and is fluent in Spanish. Her mother is originally from Equatorial Guinea, a small country located in western Africa that was a former Spanish colony. In her free time, Armilla enjoys spending time at the beach, parks, and children’s museums with her partner Whigmass and their eighteen-month-old daughter Salome.


Do You Remember the First Time You Drove Through Sacramento?

Californiana Guest Blog
By Zoe Manzanetti

California has long had a love affair with the arts, and particularly with motion pictures. The relationship has grown so strong that Hollywood has become synonymous with the film industry. From The Castro to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, motion pictures are connected to some of California’s most iconic cities.  Sacramento, more often than not, has been excluded from such imagery of glitz and glamour.

This year’s awards season pays tribute to many actors, directors, movements, ideas, and, of course, films; however this year’s award shows hold particular significance for California’s capital city in the form of  “Lady Bird”, and its many nominations including, but not limited to, one for Best Picture (Oscars), Best Motion Picture for a Comedy or Musical (Golden Globes, winner), Best Director (Oscars), Best Actress (Oscars and Golden Globes, winner), Best Supporting Actress (Oscars and Golden Globes, and Best Original Screenplay (Oscars).

The semi-autobiographical film depicts a high school senior during her senior year of high school as she experiences and dreams of relationships, love, future, success. The motion picture drew a lot of attention not only to the Sacramento-local, Greta Gerwig, who envisioned, wrote and directed the film but also to her hometown. While Sacramento for many is just a stop along the way, for Gerwig and other Sacramentans it is the stop.

Many view Sacramento as California’s provincial perfunctory Capital;  small and unobtrusive in nature. But for those of us that call Sacramento home, this is exactly what we love, and boring it is not. Living in a smaller city allows Sacramentans to have the sense of community that is often wiped away by heavy traffic and speedy subways. The relaxed and communal air of Sacramento streets wafts with the smell of artisanal coffee and the energy of inspiration. Though Sacramento doesn’t have metropolis-sized art galleries or many red carpet debuts, the scavenger hunt of murals on the sides of buildings and the quality works at the Crocker Art Museum parallel the city’s quiet, yet thriving, art culture.

As Sacramentans embraced the art culture and watched their city on the big screen, so, too, did the residents of other cities; “Lady Bird” won the hearts of many and, eventually, won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture for a Comedy or Musical.

While “Lady Bird” is Sacramento’s first award-winner of the year, it is not the first film to be shot or based in Sacramento, and it won’t be the last; 1999’s “American Beauty” has beginning scenes that depict aerial views of Sacramento, the 2017 film “Brad’s Status” follows a Sacramento based family, and Clint Eastwood already has a February 2018 release date for his motion picture “15:17 to Paris”, depicting the heroic story of three Sacramentans. So, what makes “Lady Bird” so special?

Lady Bird is set in 2002 when California was in in the midst of a shift in mentality that had dramatically altered the landscape in many communities, Sacramento included. As described in the book Coast of Dreams California on the Edge, 1990-2003, by Kevin Starr, many Californians were becoming discontented with urban life which “too often meant nonresponsive institutions, questionable public schools, and a growing sense of danger based on the realities of rising crime statistics,” and to solve this discontentment they moved themselves to the sub-urban zones (319). The second half of the twentieth century in California was a time of middle-class ideals when malls and swimming pools were rising in importance over crime rates and opulence. An urban historian from NYU, Thomas Bender, claimed in 1997 that cities were “becoming the City Lite—a consumerist theme park for visiting suburbanites,” allowing people to experience only the best parts of the city while not having to live directly in them (Starr 307).

As people both rich and poor moved out of cities and into the suburbs, they took the extremes with them.  Poor people moved for job opportunities and lower costs of living.  Wealthier people also moved and saw a great increase their standards of living – larger houses, pools, property, and cars.  This emigration leveled the two polar opposites within cities and the bell curve shrank, not eliminating the ends of the spectrum (rich and poor) but merely moving them closer together. This sub-urban migration, in many places, caused “the ancient values of the city- community, the drama of everyday life, the shaping presence of institutions” to return to the suburbs; however “Lady Bird” showcases the alternative to this Californian reality – highlighting how a those who remain in a city, such as Sacramento, shape the community and thus influence the young people growing up in it (Starr 320). In the film Lady Bird experiments with friends, family, relationships, explores the city and imagines her future. Sacramento provides her a cushioned tryout for the realities of adulthood. Gerwig’s film illuminates the subsequent impact a city can have on an individual as much as individuals can impact a city.

Sacramento maintains its communal ambiance with a small population, local businesses, and a local art-focus. Art has always been a strong focus of Sacramento because it is something that can be accepted and adapted to fit across cultures and Sacramento is known for being an extremely diverse city. Gerwig directs her film to be a testimony not just of Sacramento but of high school, adolescence, family, relationships, sexuality, and so much more. It is this adaptability which allows diverse viewers to identify and connect with the characters.  “Lady Bird” shows us that each story is just as valuable and just as influential in each other’s lives; Christine depends on many different people throughout the film, just as the city’s residents are all codependent, relying on one another to keep local coffee shops and the sense of community alive, encouraging us all to be our best selves.

Gerwig breaks the trend by depicting Sacramento as something other than a small-town from which you need to escape; while there is some feeling of wanderlust, it’s not in spite of Sacramento, it is because of Sacramento. The small city raises us with a desire for exploration and learning as it shapes us, helps us grow, pushes us, frustrates us, ignores us, but welcomes us back whenever we are ready. Though we may build lives in different corners of the world, we know as residents “she’ll come back” because our city goes with us wherever we go, as our foundation, as memory, and as living love. Sacramento wants the best for us as a parent, sibling, and friend, only sometimes it takes us distance and isolation to learn that.

The director describes “Lady Bird” as a “love letter” to Sacramento and that difference in mentality is truly what sets “Lady Bird” apart from the other films. For those who live in Sacramento, we find as much enchantment in the city each day as other viewers do in those 94 minutes. The city of trees lives, breathes, grows with us as we do; it holds a special place within everyone but it’s one we can all relate to as we drive through Sacramento or see our city looking back at us on screen. As Gerwig thanked “the people of Sacramento” in her Golden Globe acceptance speech, the people thanked “Lady Bird” for giving them such a beautiful embodiment of their city.

Winter Executive Director Message


Steve Boilard, Executive Director

As many of you know, in February I am retiring as the Center’s executive director. It’s been a pleasure to have worked with the staff and partners of the Center over the past six years. The Center is a unique and valuable organization, and through it, I have had the opportunity to work with a broad range of individuals on numerous important and exciting projects.

Because many individuals contribute to the Center’s efforts, I can’t take primary credit for its achievements. But I do want to highlight three major developments that I have had the opportunity to be involved with over the past 6 years:

Increase in support for Capital Fellows. After a full decade without any cost of living increase, the Fellows’ stipends were increased by over a third during the past several years. Moreover, the Governor has proposed a new cost of living increase for 2018-19. In addition to this, the Timothy Hodson Capital Fellows Assistance Fund has grown substantially with generous donations from individuals and institutions, allowing the Center to annually award grants to about 10 Fellows with financial need. The Center also now provides a $250 relocation grant to each Fellow when they start their fellowships. Combined, the increased stipends and grants help to ensure that the Capital Fellows programs remain accessible to all, irrespective of their financial situation.

Creation of Education Policy Fellowship Program. Two years ago the Center collaborated with Sacramento State’s Education Insights center to launch a new Fellows program. The California Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) is a professional development initiative that aims to strengthen education policymaking in California. Each year we select a cohort of 20 education professionals to come together for three weekend seminars and other activities designed to break down the barriers between K-12 and higher education policy, and between Sacramento policymakers and education practitioners. Funded with philanthropic grants, EPFP has been extremely popular and successful. The Governor’s 2018-19 budget proposal includes $100,000 to continue this program.

Establishment of Visiting Scholar Symposium Series. Six years ago the Center established a Visiting Scholar position, whereby a faculty member from outside of Sacramento State becomes connected with the Center for the academic year to conduct research on a topic of relevance to the Center’s mission. Prior visiting scholars have conducted research on such topics as the initiative process, local government bankruptcy, and health policy. At the culmination of their appointment, our Visiting Scholars present their research at a public symposium in downtown Sacramento. The half-day symposia are made financially possible from an endowment provided to the Center by former Sacramento State President Donald Gerth and his wife Bev Gerth. Through these symposia, the Center further advances its mission of bridging academia and government in the service of California’s democracy.

All three of these important programs reflect the Center’s value to California, but they also result from the critical involvement of other organizations and individuals. That’s what I’ve enjoyed most about my time at the Center: the opportunity to collaborate with committed individuals on projects that promote the ideal of California. I’m thankful for those opportunities, and I hope you will continue to support the Center in its valuable work.

As for me, I will soon be moving down to the small ranch my wife and I have in Palos Verdes, near Los Angeles. We currently have six horses on the property, which will no doubt keep me busy. Our plan is to eventually move back north, to a larger property with still more horses. I’m not sure about the timeline or exact locations, but I will remain connected to California’s education institutions in some way. And I hope to see all of you at the Center’s annual Envisioning California conference in October!

With gratitude,

steve signature

Opening “Windows of Opportunity” in Education

Opening “Windows of Opportunity” in Education
By Thad Nodine, Senior Fellow, Education Insights Center

A new cohort of California Education Policy Fellows met recently at Asilomar for three days of conversations about challenges facing education. The 20 Fellows are professionals in California whose positions collectively span K-12 schools and postsecondary education; state government and educational practice; and research, business, and nonprofit organizations.

Kent McGuire, program director of education at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, set the stage for the weekend by sharing one of the most cogent analyses I’ve heard about the national K-12 education policy landscape. He described four theories around which advocacy groups coalesce, each of which is rooted in perceptions of the current status of K-12 education and directed toward a particular set of solutions.

McGuire called this framework “a competition of ideas over education policy”—that is, a way to consider and discuss different approaches to education. He described the four groupings as fluid and not mutually exclusive. I can’t claim to have captured every nuance, but the thinking is as follows:

1. The education system isn’t all that bad, but it’s underfunded and it does a poor job of distributing resources. Our performance results don’t compare well internationally because of the challenges facing our schools, particularly those outside of education, including poverty, health, and safety. Some state funding formulas are based on student need, but these tools are blunt at best and most haven’t changed much over the past generation.

Potential solutions: Increase funding and distribute resources better to address student learning needs, particularly equity issues. A new majority of voters that is more diverse might favor shifting resources toward these priorities.

2. The system has enough money, but we don’t hold it accountable. Many adults trained in education are not trained in making change. Administrators don’t have information and data tools at their disposal. They don’t know which teachers are most effective, nor do they have the ability to make the changes that are needed. Our schools need to focus on student proficiency in core subjects.

Potential solutions: Use standardized tests to identify student needs and school deficiencies. Take over failing schools. Employ data dashboards to identify challenges and focus energy. Use value-added teacher assessments. Let ineffective teachers go and bring in leaders from outside who can make change.

3. The system has the wrong goals for learning and hasn’t taken advantage of what we know about how students learn. The issue is not about money or accountability, but rather our standards have been too low, with an insufficient focus on equity. A compliance mentality does not foster innovation. The school day is a legacy of the industrial age, with seat time, not mastery of content, as the key goal. We do a poor job of making learning relevant and we do not integrate career skills with academic instruction.

Potential solutions: Adopt rigorous standards aligned with better assessments that address multiple forms of knowledge. Use personalized learning tools. Increase professional development and responsibility for teachers and administrators. Improve school climate through trust and collaboration within and across systems. Develop mentoring relationships and opportunities for high school students to prepare for college and careers in new ways, such as through work-based learning and dual enrollment.

4. The system is broken and can’t be fixed on its own. The needs of adults in schools are crowding out those of children. The least prepared teachers are in the most challenging schools. Parents are stuck in their neighborhood schools without redress. Local district boards are politicized and make irrational decisions; the districts and schools are bureaucratic and incapable of substantial change.

Potential solutions: Increase competition and parent choice through public and private charters and other schooling options. Provide tuition tax credits for students who attend private schools.

Fellows discussed with McGuire ways to engage across these types of groupings, the roles of philanthropy in each one, the extent to which any of them address teaching and learning, and the importance of creating a narrative in building coalitions for change.

Fellows also heard from two other experts in education policy change at the gathering: Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education (SBE), and Martha Kanter, executive director of the College Promise Campaign and former U.S. Under Secretary of Education. I don’t have the space here to do justice to their insights, and so I’ll touch on only a few points.

Kirst drew from his two stints on the SBE (he was also president during Jerry Brown’s first terms as governor) to discuss the realities of education reform at the state level, saying that “windows of opportunity” for making major changes in state education policy open very rarely, for short periods of time, and only when all of these conditions are met:

1. A big idea and a big vision for change are mature and ready to go.

2. Education groups and political groups can be unified around the idea and vision.

3. State revenues are increasing, to support implementation and other costs.

Kirst said that he’s been fortunate to head the SBE when these conditions have been met, and that California has, in turn, adopted major reforms (for example, new state standards, state assessments, and local control funding and accountability). He advised Fellows to flesh out their big ideas, so that when the policy window opens, they are ready to go. He also advised them to keep at it. Their best years, he said, are ahead. (He observed that he hit his stride in his 70s!)

Martha Kanter described the interplay between federal and state education policy, including the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation—such as the extent to which Congress has not adjusted the poverty rate to meet inflation, and making federal Pell grant aid for the 45% of undergraduates from low-income families cover fewer and fewer college costs since the 1960s. Another example was federal legislation that allows low-performing for-profit schools to account for up to 90% of their revenues from federal student loans and Pell grants. She also shared her favorite assessment system for measuring community college excellence, used for awarding the Aspen Prize: outcomes that measure completion, learning, equity, and labor market performance.

Over the next eight months, Fellows will continue to amass insights from education policy luminaries, and each other, that they can put into action when the next “window of opportunity” opens.

The California EPFP program seeks to develop a new generation of skilled, informed education leaders in the state. The program is administered by the Education Insights Center and the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State.