Lessons for Improving Network Collaboration
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Collaborative networks that use continuous improvement principles and tools can accelerate and spread learning across sites and contexts. Districts face unprecedented challenges in meeting students’ and families’ needs in rapidly changing conditions. Collaborative networks can be powerful drivers of system improvement. Collaborating well is key to maximizing a network’s effectiveness.

Removing Barriers to Data Accessibility
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Parental engagement has been shown to be a key lever for improving outcomes for all students. It can positively influence grades, test scores, and graduation rates for all students. Increased engagement is also shown to improve the outcomes of underserved student populations, positively impacting low-income, Black, and Latinx students in both primary and secondary settings. Additionally, parental engagement has been found to be a critical support in blended and distance learning environments—a need that has intensified with the shift to distance learning in response to COVID-19.

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Prior work has shown that levels of self-reported student social-emotional learning (SEL) predict student achievement levels—as well as student achievement gains—but little has been done to understand if within-student changes in student reports of SEL are predictive of changes in theoretically related academic and behavioral outcomes.

Characteristics, Outcomes, and Transitions
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In this brief, we leverage data from eight school districts, known as the CORE districts, to describe students with disabilities (SWDs) by their characteristics, outcomes, and transitions into and out of special education. We found that the most common disability type was a specific learning disability. Relative to their representation among students districtwide, males, African Americans, English language learners, and foster youth were more highly represented among SWDs. In terms of outcomes, chronic absence was more prevalent among children with multiple disabilities.

Consistent Gender Differences in Students’ Self-Efficacy
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Academic self-efficacy is a student’s belief in their ability to perform within a school environment. Prior research shows that students experience a drop in academic self-efficacy during middle school that is particularly steep for female students and results in lower self-efficacy for girls than boys throughout middle and high school. In this brief, we probe whether this pattern is consistent across student groups defined by demographics, achievement level, and school of attendance.
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This brief applies value-added models to student surveys in the CORE Districts to explore whether social-emotional learning (SEL) surveys can be used to measure effective classroom-level supports for SEL. The authors find that classrooms differ in their effect on students’ growth in self-reported SEL—even after accounting for school-level effects. Results suggest that classroom-level effects within schools may be larger than school-level effects.
Lessons from the CORE Districts
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The education sector is embracing the hope that continuous improvement will lead to more beneficial student outcomes than standards-based reform and other approaches to policies and practice in prior decades. This report examines attempts in California to realize the potential of continuous improvement in some of the state’s largest districts. Policy Analysis for California Education and the CORE Districts, a nonprofit collaborative of eight urban school districts, have been engaged in a research-practice partnership since 2015.
Evidence from the CORE Districts and the PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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The number of students opting out of standardized tests has grown in recent years. This phenomenon poses a potential threat to our ability to accurately measure student achievement in schools and districts. This brief documents the extent to which opting out is observed in the CORE districts and models how higher opt-out levels could affect various accountability measures.

A Research Summary and Implications for Practice
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Given the importance of a college degree for both individual and societal economic prosperity, policymakers and educators are focused on strengthening the path to college beyond college entry. In this report, we synthesize the existing literature on four factors key to educational attainment—aspirations and beliefs, academic preparation, knowledge and information, and fortitude and resilience—and the implications of each.
  • Aspirations and beliefs—the belief that college is possible and integral to educational success.
Evidence from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Voter Poll
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Governor Gavin Newsom campaigned on a “cradle to career” education strategy that identified childcare and early education as key priorities. The Governor’s 2019 Budget Proposal follows through with the inclusion of several initiatives aimed at increasing support for children five and younger.

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Continuous improvement is a holistic and research-based approach to education grounded in the belief that every system is designed to achieve the results it gets; therefore, change must be systemwide, not piecemeal. California is a national leader in the continuous improvement movement that is spreading throughout local school districts as well as state and county offices of education. At its annual conference in February 2019, PACE convened a panel of California educators working on the cutting edge of continuous improvement. In this brief, they share their stories and lessons learned.
What It Takes
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Access to affordable preschool programs is a crucial issue for improving kindergarten readiness for 3- to 5-year-olds, but research shows that the quality of teaching and learning in those programs is just as essential. Across the country, states are boosting preschool policy standards and strengthening educational requirements for preschool teachers. California has not been at the forefront of this effort. But newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom is making preschool quality a signature issue of his administration.
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School value-added models are increasingly used to measure schools’ contributions to student success. At the same time, policymakers and researchers agree that schools should support students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) as well as academic development. Yet, the evidence regarding whether schools can influence SEL and whether statistical growth models can appropriately measure this influence is limited. Recent work shows meaningful differences across schools in changes in SEL scores by grade, but whether these differences represent the effects of schools is still unclear.

Evidence from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Voter Poll
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Late in 2018, the California Department of Education rolled out an updated version of the California School Dashboard. This revision altered the look and feel of the Dashboard and added new indicators based on newly available data. This brief updates a 2018 analysis of the Dashboard. First, I examine whether the state’s revisions are in line with the suggestions made in the 2018 report. I find that the state has made some improvements to the system, but that there is room for continued improvement.

Evidence to Inform Policy
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Governor Newsom’s first Budget Proposal increases funding for education in California. There are areas of substantive overlap in the Budget Proposal and research findings from the Getting Down to Facts II (GDTFII) research project, released in September 2018, which built an evidence base on the current status of California education and implications for paths forward.

California’s Current Policies and Funding Levels
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California policymakers have established the expectation that all public school students should have access to a broad course of study, in classes where instruction is consistent with the state’s content standards. Further, the state holds schools and school districts accountable for their ability to ensure that all students achieve at a specified level of academic proficiency, attend school regularly, and graduate from high school prepared for adult success.

A Review of Getting Down to Facts II Findings
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This paper focuses on implications for equity in the research findings of Getting Down to Facts II (GDFTII). Policymakers changed education funding and governance with the 2014 enactment of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic school funding and accountability legislation. This policy and others intended to tackle low test scores, wide achievement gaps, and other challenges identified in the 2008 research paper series, Getting Down to Facts (Loeb, Bryk, & Hanushek, 2008; Levin et al., 2018).

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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which highlights accountability for student success, has identified the progress of special education students as an area of particular concern. Statewide, the LCFF outcome data show that students with disabilities perform at particularly low levels.

Building System Capacity to Learn
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Creating continuously improving education systems could be the antidote to one-off education reforms that come and go with little to show for the effort. The strategy has been picking up steam in recent years, urged on by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); the California Department of Education; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently announced that it is earmarking 60 percent of its $1.7 billion investment in education during the next five years to support school improvement networks.

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When California became the second state to authorize charter schools in 1992, the state’s system for authorization, oversight, and renewal of charter schools was in many ways a bold experiment. The concept was new, and the impacts on both student learning and the public school system writ large were unknown.

That first law authorized the creation of 100 charter schools, a modest beginning compared to the charter school sector today. In 2017-18, California had more than 1,200 charter schools serving 620,000 students, about one out of every 10 of the state’s public school students.

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California is experiencing one of its most severe teacher shortages1 in two decades. Budget cuts and layoffs resulting from the recession contributed to a steep decline in the number of teachers in California, falling from a high of 310,362 teachers in the 2007-08 school year to 283,836 four years later. Recent efforts, including Proposition 30 and the Local Control Funding Formula, which, respectively, raised taxes for public education and transformed the state’s school finance method, have helped to regrow California’s teacher workforce.

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What impact do California’s publicly-financed preschool programs have on kindergarten readiness and student success? Which schools are moving low-income, Hispanic English learners to full English proficiency most successfully? Are smaller K-3 class sizes a smart investment for California?

Currently, the ability of California education leaders and policymakers to answer such questions is severely limited by weaknesses in the state’s education data systems. Many of those weaknesses could be readily solved.

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More than 24 million children ages 5 and younger live in the United States, and about one in eight of them—a little over 3 million—lives in California. Compared to the rest of the country, California has about twice as many children ages 5 and under who are first- or second-generation immigrants and live in families in which the adults are not fluent in English. About one in five of all children ages 5 and younger in California live in poverty, and nearly half of California’s children live in households that are at or near the poverty level.

Charting Their Experiences and Mapping Their Futures in California Schools
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California is home to more English learner (EL) students (1.3 million) than any other state, and the state also has the highest proportion of ELs (21%). In total, 38 percent of California’s students enter the school system as English learners. As a group, ELs in California perform well below average based on state test results and high school graduation rates.

A 10-Year Perspective
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California’s 6-million-student public school system includes a vast inventory of publicly owned buildings and property. All of these facilities need to be maintained and some need major renovations to ensure health, safety, and educational suitability. Some communities also need new school buildings to house a growing student population.