How School Districts Craft Coherence Towards Continuous Improvement
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Using qualitative case study methods, we examine how educators describe continuous improvement and craft coherence for implementation. We find that educators attempted to build system-wide improvement capabilities, taking into consideration theories of action for continuous improvement and managing change given the realities of their local contexts. We identify educators’ orientations for crafting coherence as a mechanism by which they attempt to integrate improvement strategies to their local contexts. Two bridging approaches to crafting coherence were found: weaving and stacking. By using...
The 2022 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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The 2021–22 academic year was profoundly challenging for California schools. Eight critical issues emerged as serious threats to student learning, the operation of schools, and even the very institution of public education: (1) gun violence, (2) politicization of and support for public education, (3) controversy over what is taught in schools, (4) student learning and well-being, (5) declining enrollment, (6) teacher shortages, (7) college affordability, and (8) long-term funding inadequacy and instability. These issues also present a threat to equity because they disproportionately affect the...

Lessons from Two Learning Networks
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Continuous improvement has a prominent place in California’s approach to educational accountability. But while there are proof points that show the potential of continuous improvement, currently there is not evidence that continuous improvement efforts are consistently leading to sustainable improvement in student outcomes and system functioning. This report analyzes the experiences of two organizations serving as the hubs of improvement networks, both of which led networks seeking to increase the proportion of students on track for postsecondary success during the 2020–21 school year. We...
Supporting Students During COVID-19
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In the wake of COVID-19, the California legislature mandated that local educational agencies (LEAs) develop detailed Learning Continuity and Attendance Plans (LCPs) to address student learning and progress during the 2020–21 academic year. This brief summarizes results of an analysis of nearly 1,000 LCPs from public school districts across the state to understand how they intended to support students in critical areas like instruction, technology, assessment, attendance, and well-being. Overall, districts planned to provide technology, assess student learning, employ tiered levels of support...
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The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting changes in schooling have been particularly difficult for students learning the English language. Recent research indicates that nearly 40 percent of English learners (ELs) nationwide were not receiving the services and support they needed to successfully engage with academic content during distance learning and that ELs experienced greater lags in learning than their peers. As the types and quality of instructional supports provided to ELs at school are vital to their educational outcomes, it is critical to understand how these students were supported...
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At a time when students of families living in poverty have experienced the worst of the economic trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, community schools have reemerged as a promising intervention for addressing lack of access to quality education and economic prosperity. Policymakers are making investments in scaling up community schools; effective use of data will be key to the success of the expansion. This brief details findings from a 2021 research project that involved collaboration between the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the University of Southern California Center on...
A Case Study of Two High-Poverty School Districts
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This report examines two districts—Azusa Unified and Dinuba Unified—that have begun to shift district structures, policies, and culture to have a measurable effect on student outcomes. Both districts have committed to reducing the D/F rate for students (eighth graders in Dinuba and ninth graders in Azusa) as part of a learning community led by California Education Partners (Ed Partners). The districts have collaborated with Ed Partners for multiple years to refine their continuous improvement approach and build capacity for sustained improvement. Although neither district has realized its...
Views from the 2021 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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Growing inequities and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic together with billions of dollars in new funding present an opportunity to make substantial changes to K–12 education to better serve all students in California. In May 2021, PACE and USC Rossier School of Education fielded our annual poll of California voters, which sought to gain clarity about voters’ priorities on public education issues during this period in which Californians are beginning to look towards a postpandemic future. The following are 10 key findings from the poll.
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California’s school system is under tremendous long-run fiscal pressure; allocating resources efficiently is therefore paramount. Efficient allocation means more money spent on the most effective policies and interventions; less waste; and ultimately better outcomes for students. Economic analysis—making sure districts and schools are spending their budgets wisely—is the method used to identify effectiveness and efficiency. This method responds to the question educational professionals face: Am I making the most efficient decisions given the resources I have and the goals I need to meet for my...
Restarting School with Equity at the Center
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This brief was developed by California-based family and student engagement organizations, associations representing educators and system leaders, research institutes, and civil rights and equity groups. The recommendations arise from the evidence that has collectively emerged from focus groups with educators, parents, and students; polls and surveys of stakeholders; a deep review of the literature; and original research conducted on COVID-19’s impact on schools and students. At the time of release, Reimagine and Rebuild: Restarting School with Equity at the Center was endorsed by the following...

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California districts were forced to shift to distance learning models in the spring of 2020 and the transition to distance learning for students in the early grades—transitional kindergarten through third grade (TK–3)—has proved difficult for students, parents, and teachers alike. As distance learning persists, administrators and teachers can continue to adapt their practices to meet the needs of students and families. This brief identifies challenges experienced during distance learning and suggests promising practices and potential policy changes that can positively affect the current...
Publication authors
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This brief highlights the need and ways to transform—systematically—how schools address the overlapping learning, behavioral, and emotional problems that can interfere with learning and teaching. The aim is to provide a blueprint to enable the state, Local Education Agencies (LEAs), and schools to play a greater role in providing student and learning supports, and to do so in ways that enhance equity of opportunity.
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. This brief lays out three important lessons about how network members can work together: (a) Participants must understand the benefits of collaboration to overcome the “costs” inherent in working together; (b)...

Pivoting Amid COVID-19
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The educators of Ayer Elementary in Fresno Unified School District began their continuous improvement journey in 2016. The stability of their underlying organizational conditions to engage in improvement work—a shared purpose, mutual trust, structures and resources that foster collaborative work, and preparation and mobilization of improvement capabilities—was put to the test as their focus pivoted in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This practice brief describes ways in which Ayer Elementary continued to invest in short- and long-term improvement practices to strengthen student engagement...
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A new PACE brief summarizes key points from the report Enabling Conditions and Capacities for Continuous Improvement: A Framework for Measuring and Supporting Progress Towards the Goals of the Statewide System of Support and contextualizes the findings within the current challenge of supporting teaching and learning during a pandemic. The concept of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) provides a framework for the ways in which schools are operating amid the COVID-19 crisis. In an unprecedented VUCA context, rapid cycles of improvement are essential for identifying approaches...
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How can schools provide high-quality distance and blended learning during the pandemic? This brief includes a mix of rigorous evidence from extant studies, data from interviews with practitioners who described their learnings from informal experimentation during the spring of 2020, and expert researchers who thought about how to apply research to the current context. Breaking Down the Issues With the abrupt end of in-person schooling in the spring of 2020, learning opportunities available to students varied enormously with some students receiving almost no distance instruction and others...

A Guide for Parents, Families, and the Public
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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of school districts in California will not have in-person teaching in fall 2020. Over the months ahead, parents, educators, and the public will have to navigate uncertainty in weighing the costs and benefits of opening schools versus supporting learning remotely. This brief offers the questions that parents, educators, and the public should ask about the education, health, safety, and social-emotional needs of children and adults when considering plans for reopening during the pandemic. The authors, education and health policy experts...
Sanger Unified and the Pivot–Sanger Multi-Tiered System of Supports Project
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Equity is the consistent thread that runs through major California education policies of the last decade, which have focused on providing access and opportunity tailored to students’ needs in order to reduce disparities in learning outcomes. Equity challenges, already significant prior to COVID-19, have been exacerbated by the pandemic’s education disruptions. Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) offers a framework for identifying students who are struggling and who need focused support to meet academic, behavioral, and social- emotional challenges. How can California make MTSS...

What California’s Leaders Must Do Next to Advance Student Learning During COVID-19
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On July 17th, 2020, Governor Newsom announced that all K–12 schools in California counties with rising COVID-19 infections would be required to teach remotely. Without a strong focus on improving the quality of remote education at scale, students could lose up to a year’s worth of learning, and as many as 1.1 million students could fail to graduate high school. That academic impact would be felt most acutely by low-income, Black, and Latinx students. California’s leaders must act now to prioritize equity and ensure quality across all of the state’s districts. New policies do establish baseline...
Research to Guide Distance and Blended Instruction
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Though the delivery of instruction in the 2020–21 school year will be altered to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a long-standing research base on high-quality instruction can inform decisions about students’ learning and engagement. The following ten recommendations distill the key findings from the PACE report Supporting Learning in the COVID-19 Context, which offers a framework for educators and district leaders to use in their preparation to provide quality instruction through distance and blended models. Recommendations to educators: 1 Prioritize interaction and collaboration in...

A Summary of the PACE Policy Research Panel
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More than 725,000 of California’s K-12 students qualified for special education services in 2018-19, but they entered a system that is often ill-equipped to serve them. This brief summarizes the findings from the PACE Policy Research Panel on Special Education: Organizing Schools to Serve Students with Disabilities in California. We find opportunities for improvement in early screening, identification, and intervention; transitions into and out of special education services; educator preparation and ongoing support; and availability of mental and physical health services. Comprehensive...
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. Entry rates into...
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While California Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CA CCSSM) call for rigorous mathematics for all students, students with disabilities have not been provided equal access to instruction that meets these standards. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework to develop strategic, expert learners within classroom settings that maximize engagement of a wide variety of students, including students with disabilities. This brief describes how UDL can provide the foundation of mathematics instruction that provides access to rigorous, standards-based mathematics for...
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This brief provides recommendations for the professional development (PD) of teachers, administrators, and school personnel in order to improve student outcomes. The significant achievement gap for diverse learners—including students with disabilities, a vast majority of whom are also culturally and/or linguistically diverse—can be reduced through high quality and ongoing PD. Unfortunately, there are numerous barriers to effective PD. To address these barriers, this brief outlines recommendations for best practices in PD for teachers and other school staff. Strategies for integrating evidence...
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Under California’s System of Support, differentiated assistance (DA) provides supports to eligible districts to boost student group performance levels. This brief describes the districts that were eligible for DA in 2019 based on the performance levels of their students with disabilities (SWD). It also analyzes how SWD performance on State Priority Areas (SPAs) and indicators factored into districts’ eligibility for DA. Findings show that, among the 333 districts identified for DA, eligibility was driven, in part, by SWD performance for over half of those districts. These 187 districts were...