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California enacted a groundbreaking shift to its school-funding system when it passed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013. The law sought to make funding more equitable and also aimed to increase local control based on the premise that budgeting decisions are best made at the local level in partnership with community stakeholders, who must, in turn, hold the district accountable.

Evidence From Interim Assessments in California
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At the first anniversary of school closures due to COVID-19, nearly half of the K–12 students in the U.S. were attending schools that were either fully remote or offering hybrid instruction, with more than 70 percent of California students attending schools remotely. For this reason, continued efforts to unpack the effects of COVID-19 on student outcomes are especially important for California students, who may be experiencing larger-than-average effects of continued school closures relative to the nation overall.

Evidence from the CORE Districts
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Since spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has been abruptly interrupting regular instruction in almost all schools in the U.S. One year later, policymakers, district administrators, and educators are still balancing the benefits and risks of returning K–12 students to fully in-person school. Many are concerned about the pandemic’s disruption to students’ academic progress.

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.

Counties, Differentiated Assistance, and the New School Dashboard
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California’s new Statewide System of Support is grounded in the fundamental principles of the Local Control Funding Formula, especially its emphasis on the central role of local educators in determining the best approaches to improvement. This report examines the early implementation of the System of Support, with a focus on the work of the county offices of education (COEs) and the experience of the districts identified for differentiated assistance.

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.
The Case of Garden Grove Unified School District
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This case study of the culture of improvement in the Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD) is part of a broader set of reports on findings from the CORE-PACE Research Partnership’s developmental evaluation in 2018-19. The research in 2018-19 focused on elevating lessons about how educators learn continuous improvement and the organizational conditions that support continuous improvement work in schools and districts. This report is part of a set of three case studies.
The Case of Long Beach Unified School District
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This case study in the Long Beach Unified School District is part of a broader set of reports on findings from the CORE-PACE Research Partnership’s developmental evaluation in 2018-19. The research in 2018-19 focused on elevating lessons about how educators learn continuous improvement and the organizational conditions that support continuous improvement work in schools and districts.
The Case of Ayer Elementary
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In the past few years, California’s education policies have focused on continuous improvement as a general approach to improving student outcomes. While approaches for doing continuous improvement are sometimes well-specified (e.g., in specific methodologies such as improvement science, Baldridge, Deliverology, etc.), much less is known about the organizational conditions that enable continuous improvement to flourish.
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.
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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.
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The CORE districts have been measuring SEL via self-report student surveys since 2015. Any district, state, or school looking to use these surveys can now build from what we have learned in the CORE districts. In this paper we provide benchmarking data, including means and standard deviations by construct, grade level and subgroup, and examples of how to use these data in practice. The data come from nearly half a million students across the 8 CORE districts, in grades 4 through 12, who took the survey in the 2015-16 school year.
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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.

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California’s shift towards continuous improvement in education makes understanding how districts and schools can learn to improve a more pressing question than ever. The CORE Improvement Community (CIC), a network of California school districts engaged in learning about improvement together, is an important testing ground to learn about what this work entails.  This report continues drawing lessons from the CIC’s second year as its districts work together towards a common aim: to improve the mathematics achievement of African American and Latinx students in Grades 4–8.
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In fall 2018, the Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative (LCFFRC) conducted surveys of stratified random samples of California superintendents and principals. Superintendent results were published in June 2018 in Superintendents Speak: Implementing the Local Control Funding Formula. This report, Principals’ Perceptions: Implementing the Local Control Funding Formula, is the companion account of principal survey results.

Learning from the CORE Data Collaborative
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Experts agree that effective data use is critical for continuous improvement. However, there is a lack of understanding statewide about how data use for continuous improvement, with its adaptive and iterative nature, differs from data use for other purposes. In this paper, the authors discuss what data are most useful to inform continuous improvement at all levels of the system and provide a case study of how the CORE data collaborative uses a multiple-measures approach to support decision-making.

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.

What Do We Know?
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The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1, 2013, represents the first comprehensive change in the state’s education funding system in 40 years. The LCFF eliminates nearly all categorical funding streams, shifts control of most education dollars from the state to local school districts, and empowers districts, through a process of stakeholder engagement, to shape resource allocation goals and priorities to meet local needs.

Implementing the Local Control Funding Formula
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Adopted in 2013, the LCFF provides all districts with base funding plus supplemental and concentration grants for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth. The law eliminated most categorical programs, giving local school systems resource allocation authority and requiring Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) be developed with input from parents, community members, students, and educators. The policy intends to promote more equitable and coherent resource allocation decisions and to lead to improved and more equitable student outcomes.