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This brief is one in a series aimed at providing K-12 education decision makers and advocates with an evidence base to ground discussions about how to best serve students during and following the novel coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the EdResearch for Recovery Project and view the set of COVID-19 response-and-recovery topic areas and practitioner-generated questions here. The central question of this brief is: How can schools and districts monitor students’ social and emotional well-being across the year?

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.

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With the context of schooling so disrupted, many traditional methods of grading have been disrupted as well. For example, counting student participation or completion of practice work is difficult when students have unequal access to the internet for class time. What can research tell us about grading and assessment practices schools could use in the year ahead? This brief discusses grading and assessment practices that research suggests have the flexibility needed during this time of disruption, to support student learning and measure that learning in a meaningful way.

A Rural District’s Response to COVID-19
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COVID-19 has disrupted California’s education system in fundamental ways. Districts across the state are quickly creating strategies to serve all students, and many are designing their response around the needs of their most vulnerable students. This brief highlights the response of Mother Lode Union School District (MLUSD) to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which district staff and teachers were able to collaborate—despite the unprecedented crisis—to meet student needs.

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Students suffer learning losses over the summer holiday in the best of circumstances; the COVID-19 school closures are likely to intensify that effect. While it is impossible to know at this point to what degree learning loss will be impacted by this extraordinary circumstance, research demonstrates that academic “slide” is typically observed most in math and, to a somewhat lesser extent, reading.

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COVID-19 presents an array of challenges for school districts. In this brief, we share some promising practices learned from California’s Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD), particularly in the areas of family engagement and instructional access for English learners.

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Acknowledging the importance of students simply being in school, California has made student attendance part of its accountability system. This brief covers a session in which it was pointed out that using chronic absenteeism as an accountability measure is new and its underlying causes are not well understood. Even as many schools face the expectation that they take action to address high rates of absenteeism, myths about school attendance persist.
Opportunities for Research, Policy, and Practice
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Due to fragmented and misaligned segments of public education, many students lack access to educational opportunities that will ensure their success in college and career. This problem is one that may only be solved through better alignment and coordination between high school and college, between systems of higher education, and between education and economic development sectors.
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Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal for 2019–2020 includes $10 million to develop a statewide longitudinal data system—including early education, K–12, and higher education institutions as well as health and human services agencies—to better track student outcomes and improve alignment of the education system to workforce needs.
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Community engagement remains one of the most challenging expectations of California’s Local Control  Funding Formula, so much so that state leaders have funded an initiative to support regional networks focused on engagement. This brief shares insights from a session where a lead administrator from the San Bernardino County Office provided an update on that initiative. Other speakers shared their on-the-ground experiences working with educators, parents, and students to create the relationships needed for community stakeholder engagement to be consistent, meaningful, and productive.
The Challenges and Solutions from Multiple Perspectives
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Despite recent California policy changes aimed at increasing equity and improving student outcomes, challenges in serving students with disabilities persist for many school districts. This PACE policy brief identifies needed additional policy action including increased funding, modified governance and accountability structures, and expanded teacher preparation and training.
Promising Practices
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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) ushered in a new era for California education policy. Enacted in 2013, the LCFF shifted control of most education dollars from the state to local school districts, allowing them to determine how to allocate their resources to best meet the needs of the students in their community. The LCFF also made it a matter of state policy to shine a spotlight on educational inequities and try to give districts the wherewithal to level the playing field for students who too often are left behind.
Challenges and Possibilities
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In recent years, California has invested in improving early childhood education programs. Research shows the importance of high-quality early childhood education, but the disconnect from K–12 education threatens its long-term benefits. If the early grades do not build on the gains made in preschool, they likely will be lost. This brief, based on a longer technical report , describes the challenges facing pre-K–3 alignment and offers promising practices and policy recommendations.
Promising Practices From the Field
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Collaboration between K–12 public school districts and higher education, as well as between education institutions, workforce groups, and community organizations, has the potential to improve college and labor market outcomes for individual students and for local communities. However, improvement efforts demand the use of longitudinal data to define the problem, set goals, and monitor progress. California has been behind in building such a longitudinal data system—linked across pre-K through postsecondary sectors—to track individuals’ education and labor market outcomes.
Practices and Supports Employed in CORE Districts and Schools
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Social-emotional learning refers to the beliefs, attitudes, personality traits, and behaviors that students need to succeed in school and life. Our study looks closely at ten “outlier schools” in California’s CORE districts whose students report strong social-emotional learning outcomes compared to other, similar middle schools.
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High quality instruction delivered by effective teachers is the key to student success. Hiring, developing and retaining good teachers are therefore the most important tasks of our public schools. The tasks of teacher recruitment and retention have traditionally been delegated to the human resource department within school districts, but leaving these critical responsibilities to a single office is no longer sufficient. The ability to find, support, and keep good teachers is a community challenge, which demands innovative solutions collaboratively developed by diverse stakeholders.
A Smart Investment for California School Districts
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Summer learning loss contributes significantly to the achievement gap between low income students and their more affluent peers. That makes high quality summer learning programs a smart investment for school districts concerned about success for all students. Such investments have become easier thanks to the flexibility built into the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The most promising programs are not traditional summer school. Instead, they look and feel like summer camp while incorporating learning goals aligned with district priorities.
Lessons from Colombia
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Despite California’s great wealth, child poverty places a drag on the state’s educational performance. Disadvantaged children—including English learners, foster children, and the poor—do not receive the educational attention and services that they require to be successful. Although California’s Local Control Funding Formula recognizes this challenge, schools and districts have struggled to identify effective solutions to educate disadvantaged children.
A Powerful Strategy for Equity
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The disparity in educational outcomes between student populations is one of the most serious challenges facing our public education system. Gaps in test scores, graduation rates, and college readiness pose  a fundamental problem that school officials must solve. Education leaders cannot address these inequities by looking at the school day alone. They also need to consider the significant amount of time and the varied experiences young people have outside of school.
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The implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula presents local education leaders with the power and flexibility to use resources in new and different ways. Taking full advantage of this opportunity requires leaders to adopt budgeting practices that highlight the tradeoffs among system goals and facilitate the reallocation of scarce resources to support their top priorities. In this brief Mark Murphy reviews the experiences of three California school districts with budget tools that increase their ability to meet their students’ needs.

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California’s education system is highly fragmented. K-12 schools, community colleges, and the two university systems (CSU and UC) operate under entirely separate governance structures, and rely on distinct sources of funding. As a result these different "segments" of the education system generally operate independently of one another, developing policies and practices to serve their own students with little or no effort to consult with other segments. In fact, however, addressing many of the educational issues that face our state successfully will require action by more than one segment.
Promoting College Access in Fresno Unified School District
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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) requires districts to report multiple measures of student performance that reflect success in the goal of preparing students for college, career, and citizenship. As they engage in the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) process, they are expected to use state and local indicator data from California’s School Dashboard to monitor student progress.