California’s Increasing Graduation Rate Outpaces the Nation

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Summary

California’s efforts to raise the high school graduation rate appear to be paying off.  On April 9 the California Department of Education released figures showing in 2011-12 the state’s dropout rate declined from the previous year while the high school graduation rate increased. 

Improving Elementary Science Instruction Through Professional Development

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Summary

The status of science education, particularly in elementary schools in the U.S., is weak.  National standards specify that science education should begin in the early grades, yet the amount of instructional time spent on science has declined over the past decade.  Elementary teachers report feeling less qualified to teach science than other academic subjects, in terms of both content and subject-specific pedagogy.  Until science is a central component of classroom instruction, we cannot anticipate improved student learning in science.  Reform strategies in science education increasingly focus on teacher professional development as a central component for promoting change.

Which Materials?

Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness
Commentary authors
Rachana Bhatt
Summary

Most students use textbooks in the classroom every single day. It stands to reason that the choice of which curriculum materials to adopt is one of the more important choices that educational administrators make. But did you know that only one state in the entire country, Florida, currently collects information about the curriculum materials being used in schools? As surprising as it sounds, despite the mountains of data we are collecting in the arena of public education we generally do not know which textbooks are being used in which schools.

School Finance 105

Cost Adjustments for Other Factors
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Summary

Governor Brown’s proposal includes weights for student poverty and English Learners. It also retains a small number of categorical programs but all other funding streams are folded into the core formula. Even if the LCFF is ultimately adopted in something like its current form, one question that will likely continue to be debated is whether other cost factors should also be explicitly included/funded. Almost all states provide additional, differential funding for at least a few programs, either through weights or adjustments to the base formula or through separate categorical streams. However, there is a great deal of variation in what other factors are included. In general, the options fall into three areas: student needs, demographics and resource costs.  

School Finance 104

Cost Adjustments for Poverty and English Learners
Commentary author
Summary

The most common categories of student need that states include in their school funding formulas are special education, at-risk students, generally meaning low-income but may also mean any needing remedial education, and English learners (ELs). In many states, the amount allocated for these higher-cost students is determined through pupil weights, set as a percentage of the base allocation. If a student falls into multiple need categories, the weights might be added together, or not cap the total weight that can be assigned to an individual student.

School Finance 103

Accounting for Costs
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Summary

In a foundation formula, base revenue per pupil is typically equal or very similar across districts but the majority of states also distribute additional funding to compensate for differences in the cost of education in different districts. The cost of education can be defined as the minimum amount of money that a school district must spend in order to achieve a given educational outcome, such as reading at a grade-appropriate level. Costs generally differ across school districts for reasons that are outside the control of local school boards or state governments, such as the number of children with “special needs”.  In reforming California’s system to rationally address differential district needs, the key issues for policymakers are how to incorporate cost factors into the formula, which factors to include, and how large the adjustments should be.

School Finance 102

What Is the Right Base for California’s Funding Formula?
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Summary

Across the country, the primary goal of most state finance systems is to promote equalization, particularly in states where locally-financed school systems have faced court challenges. Certain formulas achieve this goal better than others. As noted in my post yesterday, both California’s current revenue limit system and Governor Brown’s proposed formula are versions of a traditional foundation state-aid formula. Typically, in a foundation system, the state assumes (or requires) that each district levies a minimum tax rate. If local revenue raised at that rate is less than the foundation amount, then state aid makes up the difference.

School Finance 101

State Funding Formulas
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Summary

In the debate around Governor Brown’s proposed “Local Control Funding Formula” (LCFF), a number of issues have been raised that school finance researchers (and policymakers in other states) have been discussing for years. Over the next several posts, this ‘School Finance 101’ series will highlight what we know – and what we don’t know – about some of these issues.

Do GATE Programs Take Resources Away from Needier Students, or Do They Reflect an Equal Commitment to All Children?

Commentary author
Ryan Yeung
Summary

In a forthcoming article titled “Gifted Education: Robin Hood or the Sheriff of Nottingham,” I examine the issue of gifted and talented education (GATE) from the perspective of public policy. In times of tight budgets, as California has experienced for the last several years, many districts can be tempted to abandon funding for GATE programs. For example, when categorical funding for GATE was ‘flexed’ in 2007, many schools dramatically scaled back gifted programs.

Beyond the Master Plan

The Case for Restructuring Baccalaureate Education in California
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Summary

Although a stunning success in many ways, California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education has been a conspicuous failure in one respect: California ranks near the bottom of the states in the proportion of its college-age population that attains a baccalaureate degree. California’s poor record of B.A. attainment is an unforeseen consequence of the Master Plan’s restrictions on access to 4-year baccalaureate institutions. In a cost-cutting move, the framers of the Master Plan restricted eligibility for admission to the University of California and the state colleges to the top eighth and top third, respectively, of the state’s high school graduates.

Combination Classes and Student Achievement

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Summary

The combination class, in which students from two adjacent grades are grouped within one classroom under one teacher, is a tool that school administrators can use to manage uneven class sizes and conserve scarce facility and personnel resources. If combination-class membership has a nonnegative effect on student outcomes, offering them could be an attractive strategy for schools looking to save money without sacrificing educational quality.

The Role of For-Profit Colleges in Increasing Postsecondary Completions

Commentary author
Su Jin Jez
Summary

California’s state budget woes have led to reduced enrollment at state colleges.  One source estimates that enrollment at public colleges in California dropped by 165,000 over the 2010–2011 academic year. At the same time, state and national leaders proclaim the need for more college graduates, including those with sub-baccalaureate awards.  And Californians themselves want better higher education.

Learning to Teach

Comparing the Effectiveness of Three Pathways
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Summary

he work of teaching is complex and multifaceted, and preparing individuals to be effective teachers is a challenging endeavor without a universally agreed-upon methodology. University-based teacher preparation in particular has been challenged to prove its relevance and effectiveness in preparing teachers. California recognizes that initial teacher preparation is only the first step in a continuum of lifelong learning but there is a need for better information about what works and what doesn’t in the state’s credential programs.

A Culture of Continuous Improvement for Improved Educational Leadership Development and Training

Commentary authors
Antonia Issa Lahera
Anthony H. Normore
Summary

In our chapter, “Planning, Changing, and Leading a Community of Professional Practice: Lessons Learned from an Innovative Urban School Leaders Preparation Program in Southern California”, we examine the ongoing planning and changing of the Urban School Leaders (USL) program at California State University Dominguez Hills. Supported by a five-year federal grant from the US Department of Education, the innovative Urban School Leaders program (USL) is the result of a partnership with four Local Districts within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). The program is intended to prepare, place, and retain leaders for high-needs schools and provide staff development to these leaders with the ultimate outcome resulting in student achievement gains.

What Does it Take to Dramatically Increase Literacy among Secondary Students?

Commentary author
Chantal Francois
Summary

Recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that seventy-nine percent of eighth graders in large cities in the United States are reading below proficient levels (National Center of Educational Statistics, 2010). Research provides multiple explanations to account for this trend. Some scholars point to a disjuncture between the school culture and the students’ own culture, often impacting educators’ beliefs about student capacity. Meanwhile, some contend that schools, even in the midst of instructional improvement efforts, disregard the technical craft of teaching and learning.

Multicultural Education and California’s Community Colleges

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Summary

The inclusion of multicultural education has become a major goal of California’s leaders within the past five years. California’s leaders recognize the importance of serving the state’s increasingly diverse student population and preparing students to be successful in a competitive global society. The Academic Senate, the major faculty body in California, stated that ‘‘the underlying principles of multicultural curriculum apply to all disciplines and that efforts to better serve [our] underrepresented students will contribute to the success of all students as they learn to function in the multicultural world of the 21st Century’’ In fact, infusing multicultural education across the curriculum was one of the major goals of the Senate’s 2005–2006 strategic plan.

The Power of Institutional Partnership in the Development of Turn Around School Leaders

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Summary

In The Power of Institutional Partnership in the Development of Turn Around School Leaders, Stephen Davis, Ronald Leon and Miriam Fultz describe the strategies used by educational leadership faculty members at Cal Poly Pomona and officials from the Pomona Unified School District (PUSD) to collaboratively establish and operate the Great Leaders for Great Schools Academy (GLGSA), California’s first accredited experimental principal preparation program (funded by a School Leadership Development Grant from the United States Department of Education). Success required strong interagency collaboration and was dependent on the willingness of each party to subordinate traditional practices of institutional autonomy to a mutually-derived program vision and shared responsibility for program oversight, content, functions, and outcomes.

English Learners and Full-Day Kindergarten

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Summary

Many state and local school district policymakers have enacted policies to expand kindergarten from half-day to full-day because of perceived benefits to student learning. In California, as of 2008, about 43 percent of public school students were enrolled in full-day classes. Research on the effectiveness of full-day programs is limited to short-term benefits, but absent from past research is the effect on English learner (EL) students, who may especially benefit from extra time. EL students are a large portion of the California student population and are at greater risk of failing to meet state education standards.

Do Community Colleges Contribute to Local Economic Growth?

Commentary authors
Andrew Crookston
Gregory Hooks
Summary

In the decades following World War II, community colleges expanded rapidly. They were charged with the unique mission of providing higher education opportunity to broad sections of the population that were unable to access four-year institutions. To accommodate GIs returning from World War II and baby boomers coming of age, policymakers committed resources to expand and fund community colleges. However, beginning in the 1970s, fiscal austerity constrained state budgets. Moreover, funding for community colleges competed with criminal justice and other policy priorities. When compared to earlier decades, community colleges’ funding shares declined significantly, despite recognition that community colleges continue to play a prominent role in access to higher education.

Charter Management Organizations

An Emerging Approach to Scaling Up What Works
Commentary authors
Caitlin Farrell
Priscilla Wohlstetter
Joanna Smith
Summary

After nearly two decades, charter schools have evolved beyond policymakers’ original vision of stand-alone, community-based schools. In California and elsewhere, charter leaders now are pushing to influence traditional school districts and local communities on a much larger scale. Charter schools seek solutions to challenges that often plague stand-alone charter schools, like facility space and fundraising. Additionally, policymakers have shown increasing interest in replicating high-quality education models as a way to improve chronically underperforming schools.

Teacher Quality Varies Within Schools, Not Just Across Them

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Summary

Quality teachers are one of schools’ most important resources. Students assigned to higher-quality teachers learn more the year they are in class with that teacher as well as in subsequent years. Students assigned to higher-quality teachers are also more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, earn higher salaries, and live in more affluent neighborhoods, among other positive outcomes.

The Academic Consequences of Changing Schools

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Summary

Student mobility has long been a concern of educators, since frequent school enrollment changes are associated with poor outcomes along many dimensions. Students change schools for many reasons, however, and it is difficult to determine whether changing schools is, in itself, harmful to students. It could be that the reasons for the change in schools are what account for the poor outcomes, rather than simply being new to a school.