A conversation with…
Linda Darling-Hammond

well-respected research and policy expert described as “a giant in the world of education” by The Washington Post, Linda-Darling Hammond began her new role as State Board of Education President in February 2019 after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed her to the body. The 11-person board oversees policy, academic standards, curriculum, assessments and accountability for the state’s K-12 public schools.

Darling-Hammond is also president of the Learning Policy Institute, a non-partisan research organization based in Palo Alto, and served as chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing prior to her appointment to the state board.

California Schools recently talked with Darling-Hammond about her vision for the state’s K-12 public education system, the need for greater funding and the persistent teacher shortage impacting districts up and down California.

Congratulations on your appointment to the State Board of Education. What are some of the key issues you anticipate addressing in your tenure as board president?
California has seen a lot of reform over the last eight years. We have a new, more progressive funding system attached to a new accountability system that asks local districts to regularly evaluate their progress against a set of state education priorities, and then create budgets, with the involvement of communities and educators, to accomplish their goals. We have a new set of standards (the Common Core State Standards), new assessments that are better measures of students’ higher order thinking skills and new approaches to professional learning. Going forward, I expect the board will fine tune many of these features and develop a system of supports for local educators, schools and districts that provides ready access to high-quality professional learning opportunities and allows them to share with each other what they are learning and doing and how they can collectively improve.
How should the state balance the desire to demonstrate short-term progress with the need to create a long-term sustainable system that serves all students?
As we create a long-term sustainable system, we must pay attention to our short-term progress and evaluate what’s working and what isn’t — so that we can do more of the former and less of the latter. We must develop a long-term investment strategy for education funding generally and for solving the lingering problems of pensions and special education. We need to create a long-term sustainable system of professional learning for our teachers and principals that is routinely and readily available, that eliminates staff shortages and that enables continued evolution of the system to meet rapidly changing 21st-century demands.
Can you highlight some of the key points of the article “Why our funding systems are derailing the American dream” and expand on the need for greater funding?
In the article you reference, Jeff Raikes and I discuss the fact that inequity is built into the design of the education funding systems across the United States. When communities were creating their own local schools, they relied on local property taxes to fund them. Most school systems still rely on property taxes for the majority of their funding and those revenues are dramatically unequal based on the kind of tax base available in each community. We must change that unequal allocation and acknowledge that in a knowledge-based economy we need much higher quality education for everyone.

California tackled this issue by creating the Local Control Funding Formula, which allocates more resources to local educational agencies that serve low-income students, English learners and students who are in foster care or homeless. We have moved from being one of the lowest-spending states in the country to about 25th in average per-pupil expenditures. However, when you adjust for our high cost of living, we are still well below the average*. We need to continue to make progress on both equity and increased investments. We need to spend funds in ways that improve student learning, which is why instituting a well-functioning Local Control and Accountability Plan, where budgets are continually evaluated against progress toward learning goals and reshaped as needed, is very important.

How do you respond to critics who say the Local Control Funding Formula hasn’t made a significant impact for students?
In 2007, California was 49th in the nation in eighth-grade reading. In 2017, we were almost at the national average in just five short years of new reforms. We were 45th in math, and we’ve cut the distance to the national average in half. Our graduation rate has sharply increased and is now comparable to the national average at 83 percent, and we see progress in teaching the new content standards as well as integrating social and emotional learning. A study by UC Berkeley professor Rucker Johnson found a direct relationship between LCFF investments and gains in achievement and graduation rates, especially for low-income students.
How does your experience as an education researcher and former chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing influence your outlook on the state’s education system?
I was a public school teacher before I became an education researcher and was immediately aware of the wide range of knowledge and deep set of skills required to teach effectively. As a result, I am extremely committed to providing professional learning opportunities to all educators so they can develop the knowledge and skills they want and need to have to do the complex, challenging work of education.

A lot of my research has examined what kind of professional learning is effective, how to make it available, and what the impacts are when teachers have the content knowledge and the skills to enable each child to succeed.

I would love to see us reverse the steady slide downward that occurred after Proposition 13 and the education budget cuts that caused John Merrow to create the film, From First to Worst, and ascend from “worst to first.”
As the chair of the CTC, I worked hard to ensure that teacher education programs would provide teachers with important knowledge and skills, including strong clinical opportunities that enabled them to be effective in the classroom. We also tried to eliminate requirements that weren’t useful for building knowledge.
CSBA and LPI partnered on a major project in 2016 on the state’s teacher shortage. Has the state or nation made any progress?
California is still struggling with a deep teacher shortage, but we have made some progress, in part because of CSBA’s efforts to call attention to the problems. We have new undergraduate programs that are pathways into teaching, particularly in shortage areas. Last year, we got a $75 million allocation for teacher residencies — high-quality preparation programs in high-need districts that underwrite preparation costs; in exchange, candidates pledge to teach in the communities where they did their apprenticeships. These programs yield very strong retention rates.

Addressing retention is crucial since 90 percent of teachers hired each year are replacing teachers who left the year before. Two-thirds of leavers are not retiring but are leaving for other reasons, most due to challenges in teaching. Those who are underprepared are two to three times more likely to leave.

That’s why we need to make it possible for teachers to be fully prepared. This year, Gov. Newsom has proposed $90 million for forgivable loans or service scholarships that will help people get the training they need to teach well and repay those loans with service in school districts.

In the long run, we must also improve working conditions and provide the supports that make staying in the profession worthwhile.

What does California do better than other states in education? What could it learn and improve by borrowing from other states?
California has done many things really well in recent years, and we’ve seen some results. We have a very progressive funding system — investing more in pupils with greater educational needs — which is fairer than those in about 38 other states. California did a very good job of adopting both the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math, rolling them out carefully and with additional resources for technology and educator development. The state also chose not to attach new standards to punitive high-stakes tests so that people could learn to teach to the standards rather than focusing on test preparation and fearing the results, which can chase people out of the profession.

California has also done impressive work around Linked Learning and other strategies that prepare young people for college and careers in innovative ways.

On the other hand, most of California’s professional learning system was zeroed out during the Great Recession and now has to be rebuilt. We can learn from states that are doing this really well, like Iowa, New Jersey and Vermont. I think California could learn and borrow from states like New York and Massachusetts that have addressed childhood poverty, food insecurity and housing insecurity through community schools that provide wrap-around services for children and thereby improve learning.

What is your vision for the future of California’s education system?
I would love to see us reverse the steady slide downward that occurred after Proposition 13 and the education budget cuts that caused John Merrow to create the film, From First to Worst, and ascend from “worst to first” by continuing on the current path to invest in schools thoughtfully, to activate local communities around the local control accountability process, to invest in our schools and educators and to implement the new standards in innovative ways, redesigning schools for the 21st century. California is full of committed educators and inventive citizens who are focused on bringing back an education system that was once in decline. That commitment and that innovative creative drive can, with the right strategic approach, enable us to provide all our students with an excellent education and to demonstrate, in the nation’s most diverse and forward-looking state, the kind of leadership in education that can once again be California’s hallmark.

Andrew Cummins is a staff writer for California Schools.

*Editor’s Note: When adjusted for cost of living, California ranks 41st according to a 2017 report from the California Budget & Policy Center