It’s a remarkable springtime in California, and not just because of the historically vibrant blooms. A flurry of new education policies are being implemented, and the public schools, the California Community Colleges, and the California State University (CSU) are undergoing large-scale shifts. What’s exciting about these changes is their focus on student learning and success and their potential to advance educational attainment and reduce opportunity gaps among Californians.

California’s high schools are experimenting with more flexibility over their spending, granted by the Local Control Funding Formula, and changes to school accountability (including how to measure college and career readiness). They are implementing the Common Core State Standards in English and math, Next Generation Science Standards, and Smarter Balanced assessments. They are developing applied curricular pathways and helping students earn college credit before they graduate. Educators are also experimenting with new ways to support socio-emotional learning and positive school climates, to use data more effectively, to rethink disciplinary policy, to support the needs of English Learners, to engage parents better, and to improve college and career readiness for students with disabilities.  

Since the passage of the Student Success Act of 2012, the community colleges have implemented initiatives such as Student Equity, Student Success and Support Programs, the Basic Skills Initiative, the Career Pathways Trust Fund, and the Strong Workforce Initiative. Some colleges are experimenting with new ways to assess student readiness and to help students more quickly gain the skills, knowledge, and know-how they need to succeed in college-level courses. Can institutional change be a next step? The new Guided Pathways Initiative is a promising effort to remove barriers to student progress and to break down silos.

The CSU has set systemwide goals for 2025 that include increasing four-year and six-year graduation rates for those who enter as first-year students, and increasing two-year graduation rates for students who transfer from community colleges. Strategies for meeting these goals are still being developed, and they may include changing how students are assessed and placed into college-level work, improving the coursework students take to become college ready after they start in the CSU, upgrading student supports and advising tools, using technology better to help understand and consequently raise student persistence, and hiring more tenure-track faculty and support staff. 
 
Perils abound, of course, in every season of change. California has the largest two-year and four-year higher education systems in the world, and large systems tend toward “programmitis” – growing solutions to meet every problem, without creating coherence for students across efforts. Structurally, California’s funding streams and its outdated Master Plan for Higher Education reinforce divisions between the higher education systems. These divides increase inequitable opportunities and outcomes for students, with particularly harmful impacts on historically underserved groups. And yet California cannot gauge the full impacts of the policies and initiatives, due to its lack of information about student learning, engagement, progression, and success as students move from one education system to the next. 

At EdInsights, we are working to bring together policy development and educational practice through our research on policy and its implementation, our evaluation of large-scale reforms, and our capacity building efforts. In building capacity for systemic change, we provide space and support for education, policy, and organizational leaders, often at mid-career (including teachers, faculty, staff, and others), to help them identify and address the challenges they face in improving student outcomes. We are honored to work with these leaders and to serve the state and its students. With EdInsights’ new monthly blog, we are embarking on a new way of sharing information about our activities, findings, and impacts. We are excited about the seasons of opportunity ahead and the potential to advance student learning and educational attainment for Californians. Stay tuned to this space as EdInsights’ researchers, faculty fellows, and partners share perspectives and insights.