PACE has recently launched a research partnership with the CORE Districts, a network of 9 California school districts working together to improve student achievement by fostering meaningful collaboration and learning. As part of this partnership, PACE is leading a research agenda designed to support the CORE districts in continuous improvement while simultaneously helping to inform state-level policy in California. In the first year of the partnership (2015-16), PACE researchers are evaluating the implementation and effect of CORE’s innovative accountability system (the School Quality Improvement System), which focuses on the whole school and the whole child, and emphasizes the importance of the “right drivers” for school improvement, including an explicit emphasis on developing students’ academic and social-emotional skills. To learn more about this work or to get involved, contact the project director, Heather Hough.
Summary and Policy Implications
California and the nation are at the crossroads of a major shift in school accountability policy. At the state level, California’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) encourages the use of multiple measures of school performance used locally to support continuous improvement and strategic resource allocation. Similarly, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reinforces this local control, requiring more comprehensive assessment of school performance and a less prescriptive, local approach to school support. These changes represent a major cultural shift for California schools and districts.
As California supports districts statewide to embark on this improvement journey, there are important lessons to be learned from the CORE districts, six of which developed an innovative accountability system under a waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The CORE districts are early adopters of the new accountability paradigm: local leaders using multiple measures of school performance and working together to figure out collectively what works best for struggling schools.
This study examines how the CORE districts understood, implemented, and responded to the new accountability system implemented under the waiver. Our research indicates that a shift to greater flexibility and locally-determined capacity building efforts brings its own set of challenges, but substantial benefits as well. The CORE districts present an opportunity to learn how to effectively utilize multiple measures of school quality, develop shared accountability, and build capacity for schools and districts to improve.
In summary, we find that: 1) district and school administrators greatly appreciated the shift toward a more holistic approach to measurement and an emphasis on support over sanctions; 2) most waiver districts adapted CORE’s accountability system to their local needs, revealing a tension between shared accountability and local variation; and 3) CORE’s measurement system and district-level collaboration hold promise for improving local systems, while efforts to improve schools through collaboration and capacity building remain a work in progress.