Bay Area Council Blog: Education Archive


BAC Leads Delegation to Promote Early Childhood Education

By Matt Regan

California’s education system is broken to the point that many observers don’t believe it can actually be fixed.  We plunged from first in the nation to worst in a generation; a precipitous decline by anyone’s standards.  Statistics vary depending on who is producing them, but across the board California consistently ranks at or close to the bottom in student funding, student performance, and teacher/student ratios.  We also rank at or close to the top in students qualifying for free or subsidized meals, students who speak English as a second language, and total student population size.  In short, our needs are great and our resources not so much.

Faced with such sobering statistics, it is not hard to side with the pessimists, raise the white flag, and declare the problem unsolvable.  That, however, is not an acceptable option.  California is a knowledge based economy and it is the public education system that previous generations built that made this State the economic powerhouse that it is today.  Consigning a whole generation of California children to failure will produce a pig in our education python that will eventually materialize in an inability for California employers to compete for talent in the global marketplace, higher dependence on state welfare programs, and higher rates of incarceration.  In short, a recipe for disaster.

The Bay Area Council has been a leading voice for education reform in California, and in particular the need for early education, birth to third grade, to be a component part of any effort to repair California’s ailing public education system.  There are many other stakeholders in this reform effort and while we all agree what the problems are, we have rarely reached consensus on what the solutions might look like.  All that may have changed thanks to a trip co-hosted by the Bay Area Council to Montgomery County Maryland, and Washington DC this week.  Joining us on the trip were six School Superintendents, Department of Education representatives, representatives from the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers, members of the State Legislature, early education advocates, and business leaders from around California.

Our first port of call was Viers Mill Elementary School in Montgomery Country, Maryland.  Viers Mill is one of the top performing public schools in the country, yet faces exactly the same challenges that exist in California, with 65% of students qualifying for free meals, 30% speaking English as a second language, (32 different languages spoken by students) and a student mobility rate of 22%.  Montgomery County schools outperform California’s in orders of magnitude, yet its per pupil spending, while more, $11,724 compared to $9,152, is not so much so as to be the primary driver of its success.

We saw that driver later in the afternoon in the person of County School Superintendent Jerry Weast.  A no nonsense, pragmatic, larger than life individual with an obvious passion for public education and an intensity and focus that was contagious.  Superintendent Weast turned around his struggling district with a simple formula: set an objective, map a path to get you there, empower your teachers, and don’t let anyone get in your way.  It is clearly working.

We saw first hand what the light at the end of California’s education tunnel looks like.  A school district with similar demographic and fiscal challenges to California performing what can only be described as miracles. Using a data driven model, they are leading the nation in preparing kids for college.  The whole delegation, business, labor and educator alike agreed that while Jerry Weast cannot be cloned, his plan can, and it could work in California schools.

The next day in Washington D.C. we took our unified message and newfound optimism to Senator Dianne Feinstein, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representative George Miller, and Roberto Rodriguez Special Education Advisor to President Obama. We impressed upon them the need for an integrated seamless and data driven birth to college education model.

Special thanks to Randy Ward, Superintendent of San Diego Schools for co-chairing the delegation with Jim Wunderman, Ken McNeely, Chair of the Bay Area Council Early Childhood Education Committee, and the Packard Foundation for making it all possible.


U.S. Bank Awards $10,000 for Council’s Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship Program

By Chandra Alexandre

The Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders Program is at the core of the Bay Area Council’s commitment to education and to investing in underserved communities in the nine-county Bay Area. The program currently helps 60 low-to-moderate income (LMI) scholars realize their goal of achieving a post-high school education—often as the first one in their families to graduate from high school, let alone college.  These students possess an intimate awareness of the challenges faced by residents of LMI communities and are passionate about making a positive impact on their communities.  Through supporting their college education with scholarships, mentoring and leadership workshops, the Council and its partners are helping them become the most capable leaders that they can be—for today and for tomorrow.

The program is in alignment with US Bank’s mission and goals in education. As Lisa M. Joyner, Vice President in U.S. Bank’s West Region Community Affairs department shared in announcing the grant award, “U.S. Bank is excited to support The Bay Area Council’s Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders program.  This program is aligned with one of U.S. Bank’s funding priorities: education. We support innovative programs that help low-and moderate income students succeed in school and prepare for post secondary education.  We appreciate The Bay Area Council’s dedication and commitment to underserved youth.” The U.S. Bank contribution will help the Council further develop and improve upon tracking metrics and aid work with scholars to enhance their exposure to and leadership potentials within the business community.

Thank you, U.S. Bank, for your support!

For additional information about the program or to lend your support, contact us.

Female elementary school pupil being bullied

California Misses Out On First Round of Race to the Top

By Linda Galliher

The U.S. Department of Education announced the list of 16 finalists for the first round of its Race to the Top funds, a list that did not include California. The announcement came as a great disappointment, especially after the Legislature performed “legislative backflips” in the lead up to the January application deadline, passing education reform laws to make the state more competitive for as much as $700 million in federal funds.

States that made the first cut include New York, Florida, Massachusetts and Colorado, as well as the District of Columbia. States were chosen based on willingness to improve failing schools using tools such as a data collection, tougher testing standards and teacher training. It is expected that less than half a dozen of the finalists will go on to receive funding in the first round.

With another round of funding coming up in the summer, California will have a second shot at the Race to the Top money. In order to have a chance this next time, the state will have to demonstrate its ability to improve failing schools through additional reforms even before receiving funding. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan hopes this strategy to lure states into the Race to the Top will result in improved education systems even in states that do not receive federal funds.

Missing out on the first round of grant funding is disappointing but is not a closed door. We now have more time, and the challenge, to bring additional reforms to the table for round two. The Bay Area Council looks forward to working with all stakeholders, and our lawmakers in Sacramento, to find the path that will allow us to usher in some much-needed federal dollars and a new era for education in California.


Important Victory for Education! – SB 19 Signed into Law

By Linda Galliher

California’s cash strapped and underperforming schools need help. Yet, without a comprehensive system to track student data and performance, the state was unlikely to qualify to compete for a large pot of money in the federal Race to the Top education funds. In frustration with his home state, Congressman George Miller, who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, ended a recent Bay Area Council meeting saying, “We cannot continue to throw education dollars at a broken system.” It was sobering to hear this given the Bay Area Council’s Education Committee’s continuing fight for a comprehensive education data system. Our hard work finally paid off when Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 19 (Simitian), a bill that removes barriers to federal stimulus dollars – and strengthens the State’s ability to accurately track student performance.

State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) thanked our members for their work. “The signing into law of SB 19 is the culmination of several years’ hard work. Not only does the bill make California eligible to compete for $4.5 billion in federal education funding but it will put in place a data system that will benefit our children and their teachers. I thank the Bay Area Council for their support over those years.”

We, in turn, congratulate Senator Simitian. California lags in the tracking of student performance. We are working diligently to change that – and this bill is a huge step.

SB 19 will allow California to do the following:

* Use student data to evaluate teacher performance and to make teacher assignment decisions.
* Link the collection and flow of data, through a longitudinal system, from Pre-K, through K-12 and into higher education.
* Compete for federal Race to the Top stimulus funds that will be awarded to states that are innovative and reform minded.

For more information on California’s quest for federal grant monies, and suggested reform legislation from the Governor click here.


There is Hope in Education Reform

By Linda Galliher

The Bay Area Council Education Committee recently met at the Commonwealth Club to discuss priorities in education reform – a major challenge for both California and the country as a whole, and a challenge the Bay Area Council has stepped up to lead on behalf of the business community. Attendees were eager to engage with Matt Miller of McKinsey & Co and education guru Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond.

Both speakers emphasized the striking achievement gaps that exist between high and low income students, white and minority students, between California and other states, and between the United States and other developed countries. In the U.S., a child’s low socioeconomic status has become a predictor of poor academic achievement. Internationally the achievement gap between students from high and low income brackets is much less than in the U.S., indicating that family income need not be destiny.

There is hope, Linda Darling-Hammond assured one hundred Bay Area Council members, educators and thought leaders, that there are education reforms that can turn around the downward slide of California public education, now 49th in the nation. She pointed to a wealth of federal stimulus dollars that can help economically strapped California make significant progress toward supporting effective teachers in every classroom. Many of the most lucrative funding opportunities come from grants in U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s, well publicized $5 billion Race to the Top Fund, which will be allocated on a competitive basis. In addition to Race to the Top funds there is a list of alternative funding opportunities, as well as notes from Linda Darling-Hammond’s presentation: Moving California’s Schools from Worst to First: What will it really take to Leave No Child Behind?

Matt Miller from McKinsey & Company presented their report, The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap, which makes a convincing case that we all have a stake in fixing education. The national economy is already showing signs of the negative impacts of a failing education system. By failing to provide the best education for all of our youth, we short change immense human potential. We diminish productivity and lifelong earnings with the cumulative effect imposing the economic equivalent of a national recession that is substantially deeper than the one we are currently experiencing.


Bay Area Council Strengthens National ECE Effort

By Matt Regan

The Bay Area Council is pleased to share our strengthening of ties across the country on the issue of early childhood education (ECE). In particular, we are delighted that Jim Wunderman, President & CEO of the Bay Area Council, has recently accepted an invitation to join the Advisory Council to the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Jim’s champion status as an ECE supporter and his wise strategic council to Pew have already made him a valuable resource to the Partnership, and we are excited about the potentials for learning and advancement of ECE afforded by this new national alliance.

Our strong relationship with the Pew Charitable Trusts has developed over time, beginning with an early childhood education event at the Milken Institute (sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts) in February 2008 at which our Chairman, Lenny Mendonca, spoke. Then, in September 2008, Jim Wunderman and Linda Galliher, Vice President of Education and Healthcare, attended the Pew-sponsored Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment in Telluride, Colorado. Jim was an active and vocal participant in that conference of business leaders, discussing the challenges and future of ECE in each state. Jim was also able to spend time talking through salient issues with James Heckman, economist, Nobel Laureate, and supporter of ECE given both the economic realities and return on social investment afforded by early care and education.

Since last year, Pew has reached out to the Bay Area Council for advice and counsel during a reformulation of its ECE strategy for 2009. We look forward to our continued and growing partnership!

To learn more about how the Bay Area Council is advancing ECE in California and around the nation, please contact Matt Regan, Director of Government Relations and Early Childhood Education, at

Please also see the Council’s recently released report—Key to Economic Success in the 21st Century: Investment in Early Childhood Programs —on the state of early childhood education in the nine-county Bay Area.


Bay Area Council Tackles Early Childhood Education Issue

By Matt Regan

This week the Bay Area Council released a new report that highlights the impressive returns resulting from investments in quality early education.

Perhaps more than any other region in the United States, or even the world, the Bay Area is a knowledge based economy. We do not have giant smoke stacks, miles of assembly lines, or thousands of acres of crops or timber driving our economic engine. Instead we have research laboratories, venture funded start ups, innovative high technology companies and pioneering biotech and cleantech industries. The raw materials for this unique economy are not mined or harvested, they are nurtured; they are our children.

If the Bay Area is to maintain its competitive advantage in the 21st century and stay ahead of other rival metropolitan regions who would seek to succeed us as the world’s innovation leader; regions such as Shanghai, London, Bangalore or Dublin, we need to ensure that the young people entering our workforce have the best possible education and possess all the necessary skills to succeed.

We are currently failing our young people and failing the Bay Area. Our education system is not producing the caliber of graduates necessary to meet the demands of our economy. 20% of Bay Area employees lack even a high school diploma and we cannot continue along this path and expect to remain competitive.

According to Nobel Laureate in Economics, James Heckman, “The best way to improve the American workforce of the 21st century is to invest in early education, to ensure that even the most disadvantaged children have the opportunity to succeed alongside their more advantaged peers.” Early education means the years zero to five. 90% of a child’s brain growth occurs before the 3rd birthday and if that child is not sufficiently stimulated during those early years he/she will enter kindergarten unprepared and will likely never bridge the achievement gap and catch up.

The jury is now in. Investments in high quality educational experiences in the years zero to five significantly improve not only school achievement but also a range of social and economic outcomes throughout life. Skeptics will no doubt ask if we can afford such an investment particularly in these economic times, but the data is very clear; investments in high quality early care and education generate a higher rate of return than almost any other public investment.

There are also immediate or more short term economic benefits to investing in these programs. The availability of quality early care and education programs increases the productivity of today’s workforce, by reducing absenteeism, tardiness and stress related issues.

This is a business issue, one of particular importance to this region, and the Bay Area Council recognizes that fact.


Hewlett Foundation Awards $900,000 Grant for Education Reform

By Chandra Alexandre

Last Week, the Education Reform team at the Bay Area Council was notified by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that they had been awarded a $900,000 three-year grant to lead a statewide education reform movement. The grant will allow the Bay Area Council to build capacity and support efforts toward statewide education reform in partnership with relevant stakeholders.

With California in crisis, we believe there is an opportunity for reform that hasn’t been seen in generations. With this grant from the Hewlett Foundation, we will continue to help drive the education reform consensus forward—particularly through our work engaging business leaders, both among our membership and in companies throughout other regions across the state. As the voice of business, the Council recognizes that it is critical for California to meet the challenges of education reform through sound and timely information, a strategic alignment of voices among business, K-12 educators, policy makers and higher education, and the ability to work together across communities, jurisdictions and industries.

The needs of our children and sustenance of our state’s economic future require that business takes a stand to help ameliorate the dramatic challenges inherent in our current public education system. The Council’s history of leading on public policy, its statewide approach, and partnerships with a variety of stakeholders make it a strong driver of successful public policy in education, and we will leverage our strengths to ensure the success of our endeavors for education reform.

With this grant, the Council will be able to focus on initiating action toward goals supported by Getting Down to Facts, a major body of research overseen by Stanford University that delves into the finance and governance of public education in California. The objective of our efforts will be to determine how best to create reform opportunities that are not only true to the underlying research and recommendations, but also that allow for input and ownership by all major stakeholders, in turn building trust and momentum statewide.

Recognizing that changes in education cannot be successful in a state whose government is broken, the grant also includes funds to utilize the forum of the Council-led California Constitutional Convention to help build the path for education reform. The idea is to start with reforming the structure of government, then quickly draft on the momentum to secure bold and systematic change in education. Our method of harnessing a “people’s movement” and building an unlikely coalition for the Constitutional Convention could also crack open the door for a new alliance on education reform. Together, the two synergistic education and government reform movements can help California get back on its feet again.

For more information on the work the Council is doing in education and to become engaged in our effort, please contact Linda Galliher, Vice President of Education and Healthcare. For an opportunity to contribute as a supporting partner, please contact Chandra Alexandre, Director of Development and click here to see the Bay Area Council Foundation’s initiatives.


Effective data can save money and kids

By Linda Galliher

President Obama has said that his administration will have one simple test for whether he continues to spend money on any government program. That test is “Does it work?” California currently spends $50 Billion a year on public education without good data on what works. In these hard budget times especially, we must spend our precious public dollars efficiently. We need a 21st Century data system to supply the information needed for teachers, administrators, and parents to know which practices are best practices. At no cost to taxpayers, McKinsey & Company, an elite global consulting group, has designed such a data system for California. See the design here. The Bay Area Council and many other individuals and groups have written to encourage the Governor to support the development of this critical tool for education excellence. See the Governor’s reply letter supporting the data system here. To keep the issue active on the public and legislative agenda, Chief Magnus and I recently co-wrote an opinion piece for the Contra Costa Times.


Best Practices in Early Childhood Education

By Matt Regan

There is a growing body of research and evidence that is pointing towards the very clear conclusion that investing in early childhood education and development produces returns not seen in any other arena of government spending.   Studies by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota, Nobel Laureate Economist James Heckman, and a soon to be released economic impact report commissioned by the Bay Area Council, all indicate clearly that quality early childhood programs result in higher educational attainment later in life, lower rates of social problems such as drug dependency or teen pregnancy, lower dependency on welfare and lower rates of criminal behavior. Some research indicates that the return on investment in such quality programs can be as high as 17:1.

So what does a quality early childhood education program look like and where can one be found?  Bay Area Council Director of Government Relations, Matt Regan, travelled to New Jersey this week with a delegation of California lawmakers, business leaders and child advocates on a fact finding mission to observe what is arguably the premier early childhood education system in the nation.  The purpose of the trip was to collect examples of best practices, learn how the State of New Jersey has funded and rolled out this impressive program in such a short period of time, and see what, if anything, could be brought back to California.

The Abbott Preschool Program was developed in response to a 1998 mandate from New Jersey’s Supreme Court, requiring the provision of preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds in the state’s highest poverty districts.  This decision was part of a larger court mandate to provide all the state’s children with a “thorough and efficient education” as required by the New Jersey State Constitution.

New Jersey now requires that all Abbott preschool teachers have a Bachelors Degree and an early learning certificate. Each Abbott classroom has no more than 15 children with a teacher and an aide. Each 20 classes have support from a Master Teacher as well as a team of social workers and professionals in special needs areas.  Abbot schools are designed to strict guidelines with a minimum of 950 sq ft per classroom with two bathrooms, as well as five defined and researched curriculums that schools can choose from.

Abbott preschools have proved incredibly popular with parents are over subscribed. New Jersey  Governor John Corzine, recognizing the success of the program and the long term benefits to his state is seeking court permission to expand Abbott preschools to all of New Jersey’s school districts, not just the most impoverished.
As in everything we look at in these cash strapped economic times, the question must be asked, how much does this Cadillac program cost, and can California afford to emulate it?

California currently spends $3,486 per year per child in our State preschool program, New Jersey spends $11,831 per child enrolled in the Abbott program and a partial local government match is required.  These figures represent a distinct difference of priorities and vision between our two states and time will only tell if New Jersey’s investment pays off but the early signs are good.  According to the first longitudinal effects study of the program carried out by the National Institute for Early Education Research the achievement gap that had previously hampered children from underprivileged communities was closing fast and that Abbott children were out performing their peers in language skills, reading and math.  Continuing studies of Abbott children are ongoing as they progress through the K-12 system, and if The Federal Reserve of Minnesota, James Heckman et al are correct, New Jersey can begin to reap the benefits of Abbott very shortly if they are not doing so already.

So the question we should be asking here in California is not whether we can afford a similar investment in our children, rather can we afford not to?