California Education Dialogue

A public policy dialogue produced by Information Renaissance
with support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,
IBM Corporation and Intel Corporation



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The California Master Plan for Education







Conditions that Promote Learning
Qualified and Inspiring Teacher in the Classroom
Rigorous Curriculum that Prepares All Students for Success
Participation in California's Public Universities
Current Textbooks and Instructional Materials
Adequate Learning Support Services
Qualified School or Campus Administrators
School or Campus Physical Plant that is Safe and Well Maintained


Assessment of Student Learning Needs
Course Alignment and Articulation
Teacher and Faculty Preparation and Professional Development


Shared Accountability
Governance - Aligning Responsibilities, Authority, Accountability


K-12 Education
Postsecondary Education
Early Childhood Education
Shared Responsibility



With the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 29 in 1999, which called for the creation of a Master Plan for Education, California began a journey that will take it to a new destination in a new century – to a comprehensive and cohesive educational system that is attentive to learner needs, literally from birth through old age. This Master Plan for Education will serve as the roadmap for that journey, with two primary goals: to provide every family with the resources, services, and support it needs to give every child the best possible start in life and in school; and to provide every public school, college, and university with the resources and authority to ensure that every student receives a rigorous, quality education.

Since a child entering preschool in 2002 can expect to graduate from high school in 2016 and, if he or she chooses, complete her or his bachelor's degree in 2020, our Master Plan must anticipate the learning needs of Californians far into the future. It is beyond our ability to know with precision the learning needs of Californians in 2020; however, we can and we must make our best attempt to envision what those future needs will be and craft an educational blueprint that helps frame the decisions we make today through anticipating the needs of tomorrow.

Several compelling reasons lead us to construct a comprehensive Master Plan at this time. First, the students who are faring least well in our public schools, colleges, and universities – largely students from low-income families and students of color – also make up the greater proportion of California’s increasing population. Second, until recent years, California has taken great pride, and invested heavily, in the quality of its education system. Third, as it was in 1959 when the Master Plan for Higher Education was first developed, California is challenged by estimates of large education enrollment demand that can be accommodated only with careful planning and sufficient investment. Fourth, also similar to the conditions of postsecondary education in 1959, today California’s K-12 education system is governed by a fragmented set of entities that sometimes operate in conflict with one another, to the detriment of the educational services offered to students. Finally, and most importantly, our entire state stands to benefit from a high quality educational system that uses effective strategies to help learners achieve their educational objectives, that responds to high priority public needs, and that continuously engages in efforts to envision the future learning needs of Californians.


Education is a vital interest of our state in that it provides Californians with the knowledge and skills to maintain our system of government, to foster a thriving economy, and to provide the foundation for a harmonious society. As the global economy continues to evolve, Californians require additional, enriching educational opportunities throughout their lives. Today, students enter, exit, and re-enter the education system at various points of their lives, bringing increasingly diverse learning needs to each classroom. To be responsive to Californians’ varied educational needs, we must have a cohesive education system in which all segments, from pre-kindergarten through university, are aligned and coordinated.

Despite the many benefits that California has enjoyed from its educational investments, there are distressing signals that these investments are no longer providing the returns we have come to expect, indeed that we require in the 21st century. These indicators are particularly distressing when viewed through the lens of unequal opportunities to learn. Schools serving large concentrations of low-income students, as well as those serving large numbers of Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, too often have large numbers of teachers with emergency teaching permits and who lack the expertise to teach effectively the subject matter and grade levels to which they have been assigned. These teachers often are asked to teach at school sites that are in poor states of maintenance and that fail to provide proper instructional support materials. This is frequently followed by high professional staff turnover, which deprives these students of consistent role models and assistance in planning their educational experiences. These inequalities underscore the importance of finding ways to obtain a better return on the public’s education investment than is currently being realized, as the following indicators reveal:
  • Barely half of California 4th and 8th graders (52 percent in both cases) demonstrated even basic competence in mathematics as measured by the 2000 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often cited as the nation’s report card. Only 15 percent of 4th graders and 18 percent of 8th graders demonstrated proficiency in mathematics that year.
  • NAEP scores from 1998, the most recent numbers available, reveal that 48 percent of 4th graders and 64 percent of 8th graders were basic readers, while fewer than one quarter of 4th and 8th graders were proficient or advanced readers.
  • Fewer than half of California’s 4th and 8th graders demonstrated a basic understanding of science on the 2000 administration of NAEP, ranking California’s students last among the 40 states that participated. Only 14 percent of 4th graders and 15 percent of 8th graders demonstrated proficiency in science.
  • Only 56.9 percent of Latino students who entered high school in 1996 graduated four years later. Black students had a similar graduation rate of only 57.8 percent. In contrast, Asian and White students graduated at rates of 86.3 percent and 77.6 percent, respectively.
  • First-year admission to the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) is limited to the top one-third and one-eighth, respectively, of high school graduates in the state. Despite the selective nature of these applicant pools, about half of all regularly admitted freshmen to CSU during the past decade have required remedial instruction in English or mathematics, or both, while approximately one-third of UC freshmen have required remedial instruction in English.
  • Among the graduates of California public high schools, White students are roughly twice as likely as their Black and Latino peers to attain CSU and UC eligibility, and Asian graduates are roughly twice as likely as their White counterparts to attain CSU and UC eligibility – a relationship that has existed since 1983.
  • Data compiled by the California Council on Science and Technology (2001) indicate that women of all races and African American and Latino men represent underutilized pools of labor in the science and technology sector (which provide high paying jobs). Differences in educational attainment and in choice of educational major contribute to their under-representation in science and technology occupations and industries.
  • The percentage of American households with at least one computer doubled from 1994 to 2000, rising from 24.1 percent to 51 percent. Computer ownership varies by racial, ethnic, and income groups, however, with 55.7 percent of White households and 65.6 percent of Asian households owning a computer in 2000 compared to 32.6 percent and 33.7 percent of Black and Latino households, respectively.
  • The percentage of U.S. households with Internet access was 41.5 percent in 2000. Fewer than one in four Black and Latino households had Internet access in 2000, 23.5 percent and 23.6 percent, respectively. These rates contrast markedly with 46.1 percent of White households and 56.8 percent of Asian households.
These data are indicative of the huge gap that exists between what Californians need from their educational system and what they are actually receiving. To date, this gap has been only marginally affected by the many reforms that have been imposed on our public schools, colleges, and universities since the mid-1980s. It provides stark evidence that a piecemeal approach to reforming education is ineffective. A comprehensive, long-term approach to restructuring education in California is clearly needed, and this restructuring must have a clear focus on improved student achievement.


This California Master Plan for Education must provide a long-term vision for an education system that is available to every Californian and that focuses on both learner needs and outcomes. This Plan is intended to serve as a framework to guide state and local policy-makers, as well as our educational institutions, agencies, and leaders, in making decisions that support this focus; to provide clear statements of expectations and goals; and to facilitate flexibility for local needs and opportunities. This Plan should further encourage and guide collaboration between and among educational institutions, community-based organizations, and businesses.

A Vision for California’s Educational System

California will develop and maintain a cohesive system of first-rate schools, colleges, and universities that prepares all students for transition to and success in the next level of education, the workforce, and general society, and that is responsive to the changing needs of our state and our people.

If this Master Plan’s goals are to be met, our schools, colleges, and universities must make serving students’ learning needs their principal focus, even at the most advanced levels of education. School districts, county and regional entities, postsecondary institutions, and the State must collaborate to ensure the availability of the necessary resources to meet learner needs. All functions and policies of the education system should be regularly reviewed and revised to ensure that each supports this focus; in short, this vision requires a dynamic plan that is comprehensive, informed by data , and reviewed regularly for evidence of progress and need for revision.

Foundational Principle

The fundamental principle that serves as the foundation for this Master Plan is that an effective and accountable education system must focus first and foremost on the learner. Policies, practices, structures, and financing must all be re-evaluated and modified as needed to ensure they are supportive of learners and their acquisition of the knowledge and skills that will enable them to be successful learners throughout their lifetimes.

Equal opportunity for all has been a broad goal of American public education for generations. Only in approximately the last thirty years, however, have the nation’s educational and political establishments begun to develop a commitment to a two-pronged refinement of that goal, one unprecedented in any culture in history: First, the schools will be capable of providing the various kinds of instructional and other support necessary for all children to succeed, including children whose readiness to learn has received little or no attention prior to their entering school, and whose life circumstances continue to be less conducive to formal education than those of many others. Second, all children will not only begin school in an education system prepared to ‘take them as it finds them,’ but their persistence in that system will be developed, nurtured, and rewarded such that they will all ultimately graduate from high school with the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind requisite to self-initiated, life-long learning. This Master Plan is California’s first comprehensive template for the accomplishment of that radical goal.

We must engage every child so he or she knows there is a place for him or her in our schools and in our society. We must engage communities both to foster a shared sense of purpose and to share responsibility for preparing and supporting every student. Ultimately, we must engage our entire state and its policymakers to make all Californians aware of the needs and purposes of our state’s education system and the critical importance of planning for a future in which we raise the educational bar for all students while simultaneously opening the doors of opportunity wider than ever before.

Our committee’s focus on learners and the foregoing goals for students coincide with a newfound understanding of human brain development and learning. As the tenets of this Master Plan are implemented over time, every element of California’s education system can be informed by this knowledge to ensure that appropriate learning opportunities occur at optimal times for learners, resulting in gains in every student’s knowledge and cognitive development.

Further, each of the principal objectives of the work undertaken by the committee and its seven working groups derives from our focus on learners. We have sought to identify ways in which our educational institutions can become more coherent or ‘seamless,’ providing learners with school and college experiences free of educational and bureaucratic impediments. We have sought to ensure equity within California’s education system through recommendations that distribute the resources and opportunities necessary to provide a high quality education to every student, irrespective of his or her circumstances. Finally, we have sought to create effective and comprehensive accountability for the entire education system by delineating authority and responsibility for all its participants in a manner that ensures each can be held accountable for ensuring students learn according to our formal expectations.

Engaging the populace in planning for a more effective, learner-focused education system, particularly in a system as large and complex as California’s, requires creativity, a willingness to take risks , and a healthy amount of patience. Nonetheless, if California’s vision for its educational enterprise is to be realized, it is imperative that all Californians become personally involved in the education and well-being of our learners – young and old alike. It is the challenge of this Master Plan for Education both to make that engagement happen and to guide it as it does.

Organization of the Plan

The Joint Committee’s vision is certainly ambitious. Ultimately, its implementation will require clear perspectives and input on the extent to which the vision remains in sight and within reach. This report provides those perspectives through its focus on four critical areas of California’s educational system: (1) access, (2) achievement, (3) accountability, and (4) affordability. Each of the corresponding sections of this Plan provides a context for the interpretation of subsequent findings and recommendations, describes today’s realities, and offers specific recommendations on what priorities should be pursued. Consistent with the goal of constructing a cohesive education system, recommendations specific to K-12 or postsecondary education are separately listed only when necessary to address unique features of these portions of the education system. Similarly, this 2002 Master Plan seeks to delineate clearly the functions, responsibilities, and authority that should reside with state-level entities and those that should be delegated to regional and local entities. Finally, the Plan proposes benchmarks and indicators that we can use to judge the progress of its implementation.


While California’s commitment to educating its people encompasses all levels of education, a crucial distinction exists between the State’s obligations regarding elementary and secondary, as distinct from postsecondary, education. California’s State Supreme Court has ruled, in its decisions on Serrano (1976) and Butt (1990), that citizens of California have a fundamental right to an elementary and secondary education. This fundamental right (also referred to as a fundamental interest of citizens of the state) derives from several provisions of California’s constitution and statutes, taken together: Article IX of the Constitution, Sections 1 and 5, which obligate the State to provide a system of free common schools; the constitution’s equal protection provisions, Article I, Section 7, and Article IV, Section 16; and Education Code Section 48200, imposing compulsory attendance. As a corollary of Californians’ fundamental right, the State incurs a fundamental obligation to sustain that right, which receives the highest order of legal protections. The State and its schools are required to equitably provide appropriate educational opportunities to all students.

Postsecondary education, though not constitutionally guaranteed to Californians, is nevertheless provided universally to our people as a privilege. California’s people and policymakers clearly regard postsecondary education as a vital interest of the state and throughout our history have demonstrated a deep commitment to it by supporting a set of affordable public colleges and universities as ultimately defined in the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. Participation in postsecondary education is voluntary, however, and not constitutionally guaranteed to be free of charge. As a result of these differences, postsecondary education does not incur the same order of legal obligations for the State as does K-12 education. Correspondingly, postsecondary education also is not subject to many of the strictures that apply to the K-12 system. These distinctions will necessarily require that, even in a cohesive Master Plan for Education, certain components will have to be treated differently between the sectors of California’s education system.

A critical element of the learning process is a child’s readiness to learn. Just as experiences at each earlier grade have an impact on a student’s preparedness for success at the next level of education, there are factors that promote a child’s readiness to succeed in her or his first experiences in school. Early education and development in pre-kindergarten settings can provide the socialization and coping skills and the developing literacy and numeracy skills that lead to these successes. Although no constitutional guarantee or statutory commitment has previously existed for California’s pre-school age children, our state has a profound interest in making available to all families who desire them the early education opportunities that support a child’s social, physical, linguistic, and cognitive development.

Table of Contents
Introduction Access Achievement
Accountability Affordability Conclusion