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.


Apply Now! Panetta Congressional Internship



Live and Work in Washington D.C.

Are you interested in working with Congress in Washington D.C?  The Panetta Congressional Internship is a fantastic opportunity for one student from Sacramento State to be selected to participate as a Panetta intern for the fall 2018 semester. Interns take part in a two-week orientation at the Panetta Institute at CSU Monterey Bay and an 11-week internship in a California congressional office.

Panetta interns receive: (1) academic programming and unit credit for the
fall 2018 semester at no cost; (2) housing; (3) living stipend; and (4) travel to and from D.C. and ground transportation.

QUALIFICATIONS: (1) matriculating junior or senior during time of internship
(not having accumulated more than 120-semester units) and has not applied
for graduation; (2) outstanding demonstration of student leadership; (3)
commitment to community and public service; and (4) excellent written and
verbal communication skills.

Please visit for application details.  

Application deadline: February 12, 2018

Welcome Capital Fellows class of 2017-18!



1718 All Fellows

Capital Fellows class of 2017-18


Every fall the Center for California Studies is excited to usher in a new class of Capital Fellows; this year is no exception.  The Judicial Fellows kicked off their fellowship year with a week-long orientation in September and the Assembly, Executive and Senate Fellows followed closely behind with their orientation beginning in October.   The Capital Fellows class of 2017-18 hail from 42 different campuses across the country (including 9 CSU and 9 UC campuses) and 24 different majors.


Applications are now open for the Capital Fellows Programs.  Apply now for a chance to be a part of this exciting opportunity in state government and public service.

Capital Fellows Programs application deadline: February 12, 2018 

Envisioning California Conference: A recap

The Center for California Studies hosted the 28th Annual Envisioning California Conference last week in Sacramento.  The topic of this year’s conference was Homelessness in California.  Given the relevancy of this issue in communities across the state, the day’s discussion and panels with ripe with insight and thoughtful conversation.  Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg delivered the keynote address at lunch, touching on many of the sensitive topics and policy points surrounding homelessness.

The Center also hosted a post-conference reception to celebrate our 35th anniversary along with the notable anniversaries of the four Capital Fellows Programs (60th anniversary of the Assembly Fellowship; 45th anniversary of the Senate Fellowship; the 32nd anniversary of the Executive Fellowship; and the 20th anniversary of the Judicial Fellowship).  Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen was on hand to accept the joint resolution from the State Senate and Assembly commemorating the special occasion.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fall 2017 Executive Director Message


Steve Boilard, Executive Director, Center for California Studies

Around 6:30 each morning I arrive at the Center’s office on Sacramento State’s campus, and recently I’ve noticed that I have to make the trip with my headlights on. That, and the paucity of open parking spaces on campus signals the fall semester has begun. Summer is already fading into a memory.

Most of our key programs are built on an academic calendar. Our Capital Fellows Programs and our LegiSchool Project launch their programming in the fall. As I write this, Center staff are busily preparing orientation activities for 64 new Fellows and readying to welcome over 100 high school students to our first LegiSchool Town Hall Meeting of the academic year.  We are also working with Sacramento State faculty to prepare graduate seminars for our new Fellows. At the same time, we are gearing up to launch outreach activities around the state to encourage applicants for the next  (2018-19) Fellowship year. (Applications open in October.) It’s truly a year-round process.

Meanwhile, we’re deep into preparations for the 28th annual Envisioning California conference, which will be held on Thursday, October 5, in downtown Sacramento. This year’s conference theme is Homelessness in California. As always, the conference will highlight a large and diverse range of perspectives on a topic of great importance to our state. State and local government officials, academics, advocates, students, journalists, and others will come together to explore various facets of homelessness, including government and social programs, mental health factors, regional housing policies, and other topics. The centerpiece of the day-long conference will be a keynote address by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg during a catered lunch. Registration is free, but space is limited. You can register here.

At the end of this year’s conference, we will hold a reception marking the 35th anniversary of the Center for California Studies, as well as milestone anniversaries of our Capital Fellows Programs. It’s humbling for me to think of the vision, commitment, hard work, and sacrifice that went into creating and expanding the Center and its mission. Some of the people most closely associated with the Center, including Jeff Lustig and Tim Hodson, have passed. But one instrumental figure, former Sacramento State President Donald Gerth, remains active in supporting the Center (among numerous other good causes). I hope you’ll come to the reception to thank him personally!


October 5: 28th Annual Envisioning California Conference and Reception celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Center for California Studies, Tsakopoulus Library Galleria


Capital Fellows Alumni: Where are they now?





Kristen Torres Pawling, 2009-10 Executive Fellow

Kristen Torres Pawling is the Sustainability Program Director for the County of Los Angeles.   Appointed in June of 2017, she is responsible for crafting the sustainability plan for the county on behalf of the Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office.  This office provides comprehensive and coordinated policy support and guidance for the Board of Supervisors, County departments, and the region toward making healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable communities.


Kristen has been involved in air quality, transportation planning, and climate change policy for almost a decade.  After graduating from UCLA with a BA in Geography and Environmental Studies in 2009, she served as an Executive Fellow in the Office of Chairwoman Mary Nichols at the Air Resources Board (ARB) in the California Environmental Protection Agency.  She was involved in the implementation of the landmark greenhouse gas legislation AB 32 and SB 375, along with drafting the Strategic Growth Council’s Federal Transportation Policy Consensus Document.  Kristen continued her work with ARB in the Transportation Planning branch in Los Angeles, and after graduating with a Master’s in Urban & Regional Planning from UCLA worked with the Southern California Association of Governments as a regional planner and then with the Natural Resources Defense Council advocating for climate change solutions.

Kristen cites her experience as an Executive Fellow as a formative time for her as a professional. She also credits the fellowship for providing important lessons and experiences in leadership.

“My time as the Air Resources Board fellow gave me a thorough education on public service, credibility, collaboration, leadership, and more. During my fellowship years (2009-2010) the state’s economic situation was still incredibly tough. The value and impact of air quality and climate change policies were under fire nearly every single day.

As a fellow, I worked with and learned from some incredible women who were pioneers in a male-dominated field.” I learned that being prepared and being self-confident would put your ahead of so many others who may only have one of those two parts of the equation under their belt. I saw that principle in action when our chief counsel squared off with cowboy boot-wearing railroad attorneys who resisted clean equipment at California’s most polluting railyards and I saw it when my mentor went to face anti-environment legislators who questioned California’s role as global leader on climate change. Applying that lesson to my career today years after my fellowship is especially meaningful when I enter a room to find I’m the only millennial, only woman, and/or only Latina.”

Profile in Leadership: Lisa Cardoza




Lisa Cardoza, Ed.D.
Sacramento State, Chief of Staff to the President and Interim Vice-President, University Advancement

A key component of the Center’s mission is the goal of fostering in California’s future leaders a dedication to public service and a commitment to the values of a representative democracy.  The opportunity to connect to and learn from established leaders in our community is just one of the ways the Center seeks to fulfill this goal. To that end, we will be profiling, on the Californiana Blog, leaders in our community who demonstrate a high level of dedication, commitment to public service, and who work “behind the scenes” in very influential roles.  This is an opportunity to learn more about the leaders who inspire us and who are responsible for getting the job done.


Lisa Cardoza, Ed.D., is the Chief of Staff to President Nelsen and is also currently serving as the Interim Vice-President of University Advancement here at Sacramento State.  We had the chance to sit down with Lisa earlier this summer and get her take on leadership and the importance of public service in higher education.

What motivates you in your professional career?

I am motivated most by my desire to assist in providing opportunities for students to succeed, regardless of background.  I grew up in an under-resourced community in South Texas, but I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to pursue higher education because of people who cared, and education has made all the difference in my life.

Please share your leadership style.

I consider myself an authentic leader, and I believe the best leaders lead by example.  If I want my team to remain motivated and committed, uphold a solid work ethic, and project a positive attitude, then I’d better be doing those things myself.

Who was a significant influence on your career in public service?

There have been several individuals in my life who have influenced my life and my career in public service: 1. My parents – my mother was a teacher and my father was a business entrepreneur; both care tremendously about the communities they serve; 2. My mentor, Dr. Francisco Guajardo, who taught me the value of people, place, and stories and sealed my commitment to education, and 3. My boss, Robert S. Nelsen, who has taught me to lead with my heart and always put students first.

What challenges do you think our state needs to focus on over the next 10 years?

The state needs to identify and pursue common goals, with a major focus on education. In addition, I think the state needs to focus on becoming more efficient. I have been surprised at how many processes and policies are outdated and inefficient; we must not remain complacent as there is always a need to improve our services.

Where is your favorite place to travel to in California?

California has so many picturesque and exciting places – from mountains to beaches to everywhere in between.  My favorite places to visit so far have been Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and Amador County. I look forward to exploring more of California in the years to come.



To keep up to date on all the happenings at the Center for California Studies subscribe to the Californiana Blog now!

2nd Cohort of Education Policy Fellows Selected

Blog image.pngThe California Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) is pleased to announce our second cohort of Fellows. California EPFP is jointly administered by the Center for California Studies and EdInsights at Sacramento State. Each year, the professional development initiative brings together 20 Fellows from K-12 and higher education to explore topics related to student success.

This year’s Fellows will attend three intensive weekend seminars and engage with policy experts about big issues in public education. The curriculum is designed to build strong networks of systems thinkers who can help improve policy creation and implementation in California to support students across the K-16 pipeline.

According to one former Fellow, “The biggest success of California EPFP is the wonderful network. I feel like I have someone to call if I have a policy or implementation issue who could give me advice.” Through participation in the program, California EPFP Fellows gain access to alumni in this state, as well as a national network of approximately 300 current Fellows and more than 3,000 alumni from 17 other EPFP sites across the country.

The program’s opening weekend seminar will be in October at Asilomar in Pacific Grove. Applications for the 2018-19 cohort are available in Spring 2018. If you’re interested in receiving a note when applications are available, email

California EPFP is supported by grants from College Futures Foundation, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.