Accountability and Support in a Coherent System of Continuous Improvement

State Accountability

Warren, P. (2014). Designing California’s next school accountability program. San Francisco, CA: Public Policy Institute of California. Available at

This policy brief reviews California’s options for K-12 school accountability as the state rolls out a new assessment system and implements the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). It gives an overview of California’s past and current accountability systems, including their strengths and weaknesses, and then proposes a model for a new state accountability program. The proposal includes five indicators: achievement data, kindergarten preparation, persistence, postgraduate success, and school environment. The author emphasizes the importance of incentives for schools and districts to meet their goals and advocates for linked accountability among state, districts, and schools. The brief concludes by arguing that accountability should focus on capacity-building and continuous improvement, with a shift from sanctions to support in most cases.

Frank, S. & Trawick-Smith, J. (2014, December). Spinning straw into gold: How state education agencies can transform their data to improve critical school resource decisions. Watertown, MA: Education Resource Strategies. Available at

This report suggests that data already collected by most state education agencies (SEAs) from local education agencies (LEAs) could be used more effectively to inform resource allocation and other important decisions at the local level. The authors argue that SEAs should transition from monitoring compliance and mandating policy to taking primary responsibility for transforming the data they collect into useable, comprehensive reports for LEAs. These reports would go beyond showing how money is spent by clearly depicting how effectively it is being spent and how resource allocation is connected to student learning. LEAs would use these reports to identify problems and restructure resources to address them. To support SEAs and LEAs as they move in this direction, the paper provides several resources, including a detailed outline of important local planning processes and metrics that can inform decision making.

Darling-Hammond, L. & Plank, D. N. (2015). Supporting continuous improvement in California’s education system. Stanford, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education. Available at

This brief explores possible directions for accountability in California as the state transitions to new systems of assessment and resource allocation. The brief identifies three commitments the state has made to improving schools—improving student learning, resource allocation, and professional learning—outlines three accountability mechanisms in place at the state level—political accountability, professional accountability, and performance accountability—and examines the benefits and potential downfalls that the authors associate with a new approach to accountability in California. The authors explain the potential of the new system while also drawing attention to areas where implementation might falter if not done correctly and how to mitigate those concerns. The brief also addresses two pillars of the new system—a centralized information system and the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence—and how those two pillars can facilitate a successful move away from a compliance-based approach and toward system learning and continuous improvement.

Fuller, B. & Tobben, L. (2014, November). Local Control Funding Formula: How to monitor progress and learn from a grand experiment. Berkeley, CA: Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy. Available at

This brief proposes a coordinated support and research effort around LCFF that acknowledges a wide range of school district contexts, identifies sources of quantitative data to measure progress towards the goals of the new funding system, and helps build long-term capacity inside districts to identify effective and ineffective practices.  The piece opens with an overview of LCFF, and then suggests that coordinated efforts to develop a shared monitoring plan can help the state fulfill its potential. The authors pose core empirical questions that stem from moving parts of LCFF reform, review differing contexts among school districts, and explore what actors at the state, district, and school levels can learn during the implementation phase. Examples of such learning points include the strategic incorporation of existing data and ideas for how districts and/or county offices can respond to implementation challenges.