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...
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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...
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...
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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...
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...

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...

Lessons from Other States
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California faces challenges in its efforts to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities (SWDs), especially regarding SWDs’ participation in general education originally mandated by PL 94-142. Research evidence consistently indicates that inclusion of SWDs in general education classrooms, to the extent possible, has positive benefits to both SWDs and general education students. This report describes strategies used in three states that appear to help increase the inclusion rates for SWDs. While by no means a comprehensive look at policies from all states, the examples of...
Views from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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In the run-up to 2020 elections, where do California voters stand on key education policy issues? This report examines findings and trends from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier poll. Key findings include rising pessimism about California education and elected officials, continued concern about gun violence in schools and college affordability, and negative opinions about higher education. However, there is substantial support for increased spending, especially on teacher salaries.

A Progress Report One Year After Getting Down to Facts II
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The 2018 Getting Down to Facts II research project drew attention to California’s continued need to focus on the achievement gap, strengthen the capacity of educators in support of continuous improvement, and attend to both the adequacy and stability of funding for schools. Based on the nature of the issues and the progress made in 2019, some clear next steps deserve attention as 2020 unfolds.

Counties, Differentiated Assistance, and the New School Dashboard
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This report examines the early implementation of California’s statewide System of Support. The System of Support has received general acclaim from County Offices of Education (COE) and district officials for its emphasis on assistance over compliance, and COEs have taken varying approaches to providing that assistance depending on the local context of the districts eligible for support and the COE’s internal capacity. Interview and survey data suggest significant challenges to realizing a robust support system, including inadequate funding, uneven COE capacity, and problems with the Dashboard...

The Case of Garden Grove Unified School District
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A crucial but challenging requirement of successful continuous improvement involves transforming the system’s culture. This case study explores how Garden Grove Unified School District built a culture that puts kids first; nurtures commitment, drive, and loyalty among teachers and other district personnel; and views both student and adult learning as important. This case examines four structures and processes used by Garden Grove leadership to establish and maintain a culture of improvement that has resulted in rising student achievement. The lessons learned could be implemented in many...
The Case of Long Beach Unified School District
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Successful continuous improvement requires educators to have a shared clarity of purpose, integrated systems of support, and a clear vision for instruction across the system with the central goal of improving classroom instruction. This case study examines how Long Beach Unified School District, one of the CORE districts involved in the CORE-PACE research project on continuous improvement, fosters these efforts. It is a portrait of a learning system that emphasizes improvement towards high-quality, rigorous instruction for all students through professional learning and capacity-building. Their...
The Case of Ayer Elementary
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Ayer Elementary School in Fresno is an exemplar of leadership practice necessary for successfully building and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement. This case study examines the leadership practices that teachers say allowed them to undertake the challenging work of using data for evidence-based changes that are steadily improving student outcomes in this ethnically diverse, high-poverty school. The report offers insights into how leaders can foster a culture of risk-taking, teacher agency, and collective efficacy. It also raises questions about how to support more principals in...
Lessons from the CORE Districts
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Continuous improvement has become a leading method of changing the way schools and districts foster better student learning and success. As part of the CORE-PACE Research Partnership, PACE spent a year studying the CORE Districts’ approach to implementing continuous improvement with a focus on two key questions: 1) What do we know about how to support educators in learning continuous improvement? 2) What conditions support continuous improvement in districts and schools? The findings are presented in a report that provides an overview of lessons learned in building a successful continuous...
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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.
How Rural District Networks Can Drive Continuous Improvement
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Rural school districts face unique challenges in procuring funds, recruiting staff, and obtaining high-quality technical assistance. This environment creates problems in identifying high-quality instructional materials and implementing best practices. A collaborative learning network can address these challenges by providing access to professional development, collaborative time with peer districts, and economies of scale. This report discusses rural networks, specifically Pivot Learning’s Rural Professional Learning Network, can cost-effectively provide expertise and build a professional...
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. {"preview_thumbnail":"/sites/default/files/styles/video_embed_wysiwyg_preview/public/video...

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Under emerging policy structures in California, the responsibility for school improvement is increasingly placed upon local school districts, with County Offices of Education (COEs) playing a critical support role. In this system, districts are responsible for school improvement, with counties in charge of ensuring quality across districts and providing feedback and support where necessary. Underlying this major policy shift is the idea that local leaders are in the best position to drive real educational improvement and ensure quality across multiple schools and contexts. While a continuous...

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Calls for “continuous improvement” in California’s K-12 education system are central to current discussions about school improvement in the state. Yet, definitions of continuous improvement vary, and knowledge of what continuous improvement looks like in practice is limited. To advance the conversation, this brief helps to define continuous improvement both in theory and in practice. As part of this work, we discuss the extent to which California policymakers and practitioners are engaged in continuous improvement efforts, how they define continuous improvement, and the barriers and gaps in...
Early lessons from the CORE districts
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In California, recent policy shifts have created a high degree of local control with the expectation that school districts will think differently about school and district improvement. However, many districts lack the individual expertise and organizational capacity to support these changes at scale. In large part, this is due to a lack of a shared understanding of the routines, structures, and supports needed for school systems to develop and implement change ideas that dramatically improve student outcomes. In this policy report, we take a first step towards clarifying what continuous...
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California’s new accountability system originated in the radical decentralization of power and authority from Sacramento to local schools and their communities brought about by the Legislature’s adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013. Under California’s previous accountability policies and the federal “No Child Left Behind” law, the state set performance targets for schools and districts based almost entirely on students’ standardized test scores. Schools that fell short of their targets were subject to a variety of increasingly harsh sanctions, ranging from designation...

A Report from the Field
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California’s State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in August of 2010. The CCSS have been adopted by 45 states across the country. They aim to articulate consistent, clear standards for what students are expected to learn and be able to do in mathematics and English Language Arts from kindergarten through Grade 12, and to focus educators’ attention on “fewer, higher, and deeper standards.” According to State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, “This changes almost everything.” The CCSS implicate every aspect of teaching, learning and assessment. In...