How to Continuously Improve California's Schools

by Susan Bonilla and David Rattray | November 28, 2018 | 2 Comments
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Recommended Steps for State Policymakers

Wouldn’t it be great if setting statewide education policy were as easy as pulling up directions on a Smartphone?

Unfortunately, policymaking is not that easy.

Education GPS

Susan Bonilla and David Rattray summarize the recommendations of the Alliance for Continuous Improvement

But a broad-based coalition, The Alliance for Continuous Improvement, is ready with a new resource, the California Education GPS (GPS), to help inform and support policymakers, parents and the public to strengthen and advance education policies and investments that meet the needs of all students.

The new online GPS articulates a collective vision for California’s students and schools. It describes important changes to the education system in recent years, then identifies eight essential next steps for state policymakers. These next steps lead toward a high-achieving public education system that is student-centered, learning-oriented, continuously improving, equitable, and that engages all families and communities.

The Alliance for Continuous Improvement Task Force, on which we serve, includes leaders who represent students, parents, teachers, administrators, school boards, social justice, business, research, early learning, higher education, and more. The group is convened by the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation.

Eight Important Policy Recommendations

We believe these eight key steps, which draw on recent research, also reflect the desires and concerns of parents across the state, as represented in part by key leaders from California State PTA who serve on the Alliance for Continuous Improvement Task Force.

1) Invest fully and equitably in students

Even with much-needed recent spending increases, California’s overall investment in students remains abysmally low when compared with what is needed. This poses a real threat to the state’s future economic success and the well-being of all residents.

Key on our list: Develop and meet new targets to increase the state’s investment per pupil in public education to the top ten among states by 2025.

2) Build capacity to provide a rigorous, relevant, broad course of study

Educators, schools and districts did tremendous work in recent years to implement California’s State Standards. It’s critical that we remain committed to this work.

Key on our list: Provide support to teachers and staff, including social emotional learning.

3) Advance supports for the whole child

One bedrock of the recent upgrades to California's public education system is a recognition that many factors are critically related to learning and student success, including health, safety and student and family engagement.

Key on our list: Continue and accelerate the state’s investment in promoting positive school climate and a whole-child approach to student development and learning.

4) Recruit, prepare, develop, and retain a diverse and well supported educator workforce

Effective instructional leaders in every school and community are essential to achieving California’s vision for public education. California must recruit, prepare, develop, and retain a diverse and well supported educator workforce.

Key on our list: Ensure state agencies, institutions of higher learning, local agencies, and others establish a cohesive, aligned strategy for building the pipeline of new teachers and school leaders.

5) Expand early learning

The research is clear: The early years have a profound impact on a child’s brain development – and high-quality, early learning experiences lay a solid foundation for a child’s later success in school, careers and life.

Key on our list: Ensure access to affordable, high-quality early care and education for every child and family, especially for our most vulnerable children, such as those from low-income families, English learners and those with disabilities.

6) Ensure access to useful data

Accessible, clearly presented data is essential to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, practices and strategies.

Key on our list: Maintain an ongoing commitment to using multiple indicators for measuring progress across each group of students, and develop a statewide system that connects relevant student data from pre-kindergarten through college, while safeguarding individual student privacy.

7) Reinforce the focus on Continuous Improvement

California is making a fundamental shift to a more transparent, evidence-based and collaborative approach to accountability that is called “Continuous Improvement” to help schools perform better at every level.

Key on our list: Support and build out the new Statewide System of Support as described in the Getting Down to Facts II research project.

8) Evaluate regularly the state’s own performance in fulfilling its crucial responsibilities

California’s system-wide approach to continuous improvement is relatively new. Researchers generally caution it will take years to build capacity before substantial changes take hold throughout the state.

Key on our list: Establish indicators for assessing the state’s own performance, especially in fulfilling its budgeting and policymaking roles, including benchmarks/timelines to mark progress.

You can find details about each of these recommendations here, including recommendations for what the legislature, Governor, State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction can do.

How do we get there?

It can’t be emphasized enough: These next few years are critical for California’s students. The policy decisions and investments our state makes should build on and strengthen the changes in place, so we can transform our public education system into one that meets or exceeds the needs of all students.

The Education GPS demonstrates that there is wide-reaching consensus around the next steps we should take as a state. This is especially important with the coming changes in the offices of the Governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and a new legislative session.

Parents can play a key role by encouraging state policymakers to remain committed to advance the principles of quality, equity, transparency and engagement, so we can move California farther and faster along to the path to system wide success.

We fully recognize it will take time and persistence for California to reach the ultimate destination. Policymakers can best fulfill their essential role by focusing on these eight key steps and helping local school communities build the capacity they need to best serve students. California’s future economy and success depends on our state continuing to invest in, learn from, and improve our public education system.

Susan Bonilla is California State Director, Council for a Strong America. Previously she served as a California State Assemblymember, County Supervisor, Mayor, and high school English teacher.


David Rattray is Executive Vice President, Center for Education Excellence & Talent Development, L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce and President, UNITE-LA.


The Alliance for Continuous Improvement is a project of the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation. The Alliance is co-chaired by Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association (CTA), and Wesley Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA).

Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Sharon Batton June 22, 2021 at 1:07 pm
The improvement of schools in California is a very important endeavor for interested students as my self I feel my presentation part of an assignment will stand out when viewed. I choose the recommendation
Advance efforts of the whole child . It is familiar as it is important in Child Development studies.
user avatar
Kristen Brown November 30, 2018 at 7:01 am
Top on the list is budget, as it should be. My district spends the least per student in the county. Wondering why this report did not echo more of the One System report. Still a lot of toxic “Us and Them” systems in education: students vs. teachers, district administrators vs. site administrators, special education vs. general education, general student vs. English Language learners, etc. School districts need to break down the barriers that isolate these groups to gain stronger learning communities. Our education systems will not improve without all in the community rolling up their sleeves and working together.
user avatar
Caryn November 30, 2018 at 5:42 pm
Hi Kristen, Thanks for stopping in and commenting. You make a great point--it's difficult to make real progress without first acknowledging that we are all on the same team, Team Kids. We believe Ed100 is a step in the right direction to help people understand that important fact. By becoming an Ed100 graduate and encouraging others to do so, parents and other stakeholders can see that they are essential partners in improving our schools. The onus is on us all. Let's not waste even one more day playing the blame game.
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