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

Commentary author
Chantal Francois
Summary

In response to concerning National Assessment of Educational Progress data indicating 79% of urban eighth graders reading below proficiency, scholars offer varied explanations—cultural disparities, instructional oversight, and a content-focused approach in secondary education. Few instances are documented of schools successfully addressing these challenges. A new study chronicles Grant Street Secondary School's transformation, witnessing a notable drop from 30% to 2.9% in students reading far below level in five years, fostering a robust "culture of reading." It explores the school's context, highlighting the principal's role as a literacy advocate, engaging in professional development and modeling reading initiatives. Collaborative schedules enabled teachers to jointly design curriculum, review student work, and integrate innovative methods. Grant Street's success underscores the importance of gradual changes and the interaction between schoolwide accountability and teacher autonomy. Prioritizing teacher growth and cultivating a reading-focused environment led to significant progress, emphasizing the pivotal role of leadership, collaboration, and pedagogical emphasis in enhancing literacy.

Multicultural Education and California’s Community Colleges

Commentary author
Summary

In recent years, California has prioritized multicultural education to serve its diverse student body and enhance global competitiveness. Despite this focus, a study highlighted concerns regarding minority student retention, citing feelings of alienation and stereotypes among students. Surprisingly, fewer than half of the state's community colleges had multicultural graduation requirements, lacking depth in higher-order thinking skills in this realm. The study emphasized the discrepancy between campus diversity and the existence of these requirements. The Academic Senate initiated investigations into implementing ethnic studies requirements and urged curriculum committees to evaluate student compliance. Multicultural education remains pivotal in shaping diverse student experiences, warranting further research to gauge recent progress in these requirements across California's community colleges.

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

Commentary author
Summary

The collaborative effort between Cal Poly Pomona and PUSD resulted in the establishment of the Great Leaders for Great Schools Academy (GLGSA), an innovative principal preparation program. Its success stemmed from robust collaboration, a shared vision, and mutual responsibilities, aligning leadership theories with PUSD's needs. GLGSA incorporated a rigorous selection process, mentor-led apprenticeships, thematic curriculum, and comprehensive evaluations. Seven recommendations emerged from this partnership: fostering mutual support, understanding needs, involving skilled evaluators, regular goal reassessment, prioritizing constituents' needs, aligning programs with district goals, and utilizing evaluation evidence for enhancement. This partnership significantly bolstered PUSD's capacity to cultivate transformative administrators, amalgamating theoretical knowledge with practical experiences tailored to specific workplace contexts.

A Simpler, Fairer Way to Fund California’s Schools

Commentary author
Summary

California's education funding system, laden with layered regulations akin to geological strata, restricts innovation and flexibility. Governor Jerry Brown's Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) proposes a significant overhaul, consolidating scattered funds into a flexible per-pupil grant. This reform aims to empower educators by freeing them from rigid spending rules, shifting focus from compliance to achieving student goals. Additionally, the plan directs extra resources to schools supporting disadvantaged students, offering supplementary aid based on the level of need. Notably, the proposal doesn't reduce funding but allocates more to districts facing greater challenges. The reformation aspires to create a fairer, more efficient, and innovative education finance system, paving the way for a more promising educational landscape in California.

English Learners and Full-Day Kindergarten

Commentary author
Summary

A new study explores the impact of full-day kindergarten on English learner (EL) students in California, a group previously overlooked in research on extended kindergarten programs. While overall findings showed no significant difference in performance between EL full-day and half-day students in first or second grades, nuanced benefits surfaced within specific subgroups. EL students in full-day programs were 5.2% less likely to face retention in early grades, indicating potential help for at-risk students. Moreover, EL students with stronger English skills upon kindergarten entry exhibited advantages: they were more likely to progress to fluent-English proficiency by second grade, demonstrated higher reading skills, and slightly improved English fluency. Interestingly, students from lower-performing schools experienced the most substantial benefits from full-day kindergarten. Despite no broad performance differences, targeted advantages for specific EL subgroups emphasize the nuanced impact of extended kindergarten hours. Schools considering adopting full-day programs should weigh these specific benefits against implementation costs for individual districts.

Do Community Colleges Contribute to Local Economic Growth?

Commentary authors
Andrew Crookston
Gregory Hooks
Summary

In the post-World War II era, community colleges expanded significantly, initially tasked with providing higher education access to broader populations. However, from the 1970s, fiscal constraints led to reduced state funding, creating competition with other priorities like criminal justice. This shift resulted in declining support for community colleges, contrasting sharply with increased investment in incarceration. The repercussions of this budgetary shift are evident. Recent studies show that while community colleges significantly boosted local employment during periods reliant on state funding, more recent years marked by rising tuition fees and decreased appropriations saw a decline in their employment impact. Ironically, where community colleges maintained low tuition rates, an unexpected inverse relationship between their presence and local employment growth emerged. Despite the soaring demand for community colleges, they face constraints and are compelled to operate with limited resources, compromising both educational opportunities and their contributions to local employment. A recent study advocates for a reprioritization towards community colleges and other postsecondary educational opportunities, urging states to reconsider their allocation of resources to bolster educational access and promote rural employment growth.

Charter Management Organizations

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

Charter schools have evolved, now aiming to influence traditional districts. Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) are gaining attention as vehicles for reform. In a study of 25 CMOs, factors impacting their growth were analyzed. Positive influences included charter-friendly state policies and local resources like facilities and staff. However, limited funding and strained relations with authorizers restricted growth. State legislation, particularly charter caps and the chartering process, heavily affected CMOs. For California CMOs, the state charter cap and appeal rights enabled scale-up, while funding and facilities posed challenges. Policymakers face questions about facilitating CMO scale-up through state and local policies, treating high-performing CMOs differently during oversight, and supporting CMOs replicating models across state lines. The role of state policies in regulating and aiding high-quality CMOs seeking expansion remains a key consideration.

Teacher Quality Varies Within Schools, Not Just Across Them

Commentary author
Summary

Quality teachers are pivotal resources in education. Students benefit significantly from being taught by higher-quality teachers, exhibiting improved learning during their time in class and in subsequent years. Such students also have higher graduation rates, attend college more frequently, secure better-paying jobs, and often reside in more prosperous neighborhoods. The variance in teacher quality across schools is a pressing concern. Urban schools, especially, struggle to attract and retain effective teachers. Those serving low-income, low-achieving, or minority students tend to employ less experienced, lower-scoring, and less qualified teachers, perpetuating disparities. In a new study, teacher sorting within and between schools was explored. The research revealed that less experienced teachers are often assigned classes with lower-achieving students, while more experienced and academically accomplished teachers teach higher-achieving classes. This trend persisted across different grade levels, potentially influenced by various teacher and organizational preferences. Such within-school teacher sorting might counteract policies aimed at equalizing teacher quality across schools, posing challenges in effectively matching effective teachers with students who need them most.

The Academic Consequences of Changing Schools

Commentary author
Summary

Student mobility, the act of changing schools, often leads to academic setbacks, yet determining whether this shift directly causes harm remains challenging. Analyzing data from Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, a recent study examines various school changes' impacts on students' annual growth in reading and math. Despite the reasons for relocation, such as desegregation policy shifts, all types of school changes adversely affect academic progress. Research demonstrates that changing schools is linked to diminished growth in test scores, equivalent to a loss of ten days of instruction, impacting disadvantaged and advantaged students alike. Surprisingly, this academic penalty remains consistent regardless of the move's compulsion or the cause. Disadvantaged students, experiencing more frequent school changes, consistently lag behind their peers, emphasizing the educational system's role in mitigating school shifts' disruptive effects. While school mobility is considered a reform tool, this research underscores its limited efficacy, complicating its potential as a solution for disadvantaged students in struggling schools.

Education Technology Policy for a 21st Century Learning System

Commentary author
Summary

Educational technology has often fallen short of expectations, but the Internet's emergence could revolutionize learning. It enables individualized learning, tailoring pace and style to students. Adaptive software makes learning smarter, offering support and challenges. Moreover, it reshapes the rigid educational hierarchy into an open network. Despite technology's advancement, policy struggles persist. While development continues, California’s educational model remains antiquated. Strategic policies could shift this landscape. Supporting tech applications in key areas like English Language Learning or Special Education promises significant returns. Deregulation, while not wholesale, could unlock potential by allowing online courses statewide, shifting from seat time-based credit, and introducing the California Diploma. Rather than a single virtual school, a network, Learning 2.0.net, offers diverse resources. It divides into information, learning, and credit systems. It illuminates educational pathways, aggregates quality learning materials, and allows test-based credits, challenging conventional classroom constraints. Internet technology's potential upheaval mandates a transformative educational adaptation. While policy can't control technology’s spread, it can guide its integration, fostering a paradigm shift in public education.

Capital Investments That Relieve Overcrowding Can Boost Student Achievement

Commentary author
Summary

In response to overcrowding, LAUSD invested $20 billion in 130+ new schools, effectively easing overcrowding and modernizing infrastructure. Researchers investigate if these new facilities affected student achievement. Elementary students who switched schools experienced increased annual growth in standardized test scores, particularly in language arts and math, regardless of ethnicity or meal assistance. However, this benefit wasn't observed for high schoolers. Those from severely overcrowded schools saw more significant improvements after switching, suggesting relief from overcrowding was the primary factor. Interestingly, nearby students in existing schools also benefited, despite not switching schools, indicating broader positive effects. Surprisingly, construction costs and physical amenities didn't consistently correlate with achievement gains. Moreover, teacher qualifications within new facilities showed minimal influence. The study delves into LAUSD District 6, revealing the intricate changes in student migration and school diversity spurred by this massive construction project.

Finding the Time

The Influence of Testing and Teacher Autonomy on Social Studies Marginalization
Commentary authors
Paul G. Fitchett
Tina L. Heafner
Richard G. Lambert
Summary

Elementary teachers often feel time-strapped due to high-stakes testing and curricular demands, leading to reduced focus on social studies. In states mandating social studies assessments, teachers allocate roughly 30 extra minutes weekly to social studies compared to non-testing states. Moreover, teachers perceiving more control over their teaching dedicate up to 6 additional hours to social studies. Surprisingly, factors like teacher credentials and school demographics had minimal impact on social studies teaching time. These findings emphasize the link between mandated tests, teacher autonomy, and social studies instruction. Advocating for social studies inclusion in standardized testing, while prioritizing teacher autonomy, is suggested to balance subject emphasis. Encouraging educators' independence might enhance social studies teaching despite test-centric pressures. A new study urges educational leaders to reshape policies, fostering both teacher autonomy and acknowledgment of social studies' importance within the accountability framework.

What is the Equation for Algebra Education?

Commentary author
Don Taylor
Summary

In efforts to equalize college access, policymakers pushed for universal algebra in schools. However, recent research suggests unintended consequences. California mandated algebra for graduation, influencing eighth-grade algebra standards and penalizing schools if students didn't take Algebra I exams. Studies revealed problems: more eighth-graders enrolled in algebra, but many struggled and repeated the course. Programs enforcing early algebra showed lowered scores, course failures, and no significant college entrance improvements. These findings raise crucial queries: Are such aggressive algebra policies beneficial for all students? Can they be implemented effectively, considering diverse student needs? Experts propose early preparation, support, emphasizing academic value, diverse pedagogy, and role models as potential solutions. Balancing curricular rigidity against students' diverse skill levels remains a challenge. Decisions on 8th-grade math policies should address these concerns to avoid harming students academically while efficiently utilizing educational resources.

What Do the California Standards Test Results Reveal About the Movement Toward Eighth-Grade Algebra for All?

Commentary authors
Jamal Abedi
Paul Heckman
Jian-Hua Liang
Summary

California’s push for universal algebra for 8th graders has led to a rise in students taking algebra but also shows a significant dropout in advanced math courses. Researchers focused on CST results from 2003 to 2011, revealing that while more 8th graders took Algebra I CST, fewer reached higher-level math in grades 9-11. The increase in 8th-grade algebra seemed to double the dropout rate in the pipeline toward higher math courses, especially for students scoring below proficient in 8th-grade algebra. The study found that students who scored proficient in 7th-grade general math had a significantly higher success rate in 9th-grade algebra compared to those below proficient in 8th-grade algebra. It highlighted that preparing students better in Grade 7 Mathematics could be more effective than funneling them into 8th-grade algebra, where more than half struggled to pass. The research calls for a reevaluation of the 8th-grade algebra policy, suggesting the need for alternatives to better support students' future success in math, highlighting the limitations of policy-driven change without effective changes in classroom practices.

The Cost of Providing an Adequate Education to ELLs

What Does the Literature Say?
Commentary author
Summary

The educational landscape in the U.S. features a significant number of English Language Learners (ELLs), yet their funding and educational needs remain understudied. Laws mandate providing resources for ELLs, but research on funding for this group is limited. Costing out studies, used to determine educational costs, lack focus on ELLs, despite their exponential growth. Four primary methodologies assess these costs, but they inconsistently include ELLs. Current research suggests states allocate insufficient funds for K–12 education, and ELLs are not adequately addressed in costing out studies. The literature emphasizes the need for adapted methodologies that account for the complex and diverse needs of ELL students. In California, a hub for ELL education, the discussion around a weighted funding formula prompts consideration of how to incorporate ELL needs. Though there's no definitive funding model for ELLs, existing research offers insights for policymakers, stressing the necessity of considering these students' multifaceted backgrounds and educational requirements. Achieving equity in ELL education necessitates refining costing out methodologies to better understand and cater to their diverse needs. Addressing these complexities is essential to ensure ELLs receive equitable resources for an adequate education.

The Politics of District Instructional Policy Formation

Compromising Equity and Rigor
Commentary author
Tina M. Trujillo
Summary

The challenges faced by California school districts are complex, demanding leaders to navigate diverse educational philosophies and implement explicit equity-oriented policies. A study on an urban California district revealed that, beyond technical issues, ideological differences among leaders, teachers, and principals can compromise the development of ambitious, equity-oriented instructional policies. Embracing political trends, influenced by federal policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, may narrow the educational focus to economic goals, emphasizing standardized testing and basic skills. This shift detracts from broader academic objectives, such as fostering community engagement and critical thinking. A new study underscores the significant role of ideology in shaping district instructional policies and highlights the potential consequences of aligning with political trends that perpetuate educational inequities for historically underserved communities. Ultimately, the findings illustrate how societal and institutional trends can intensify existing disparities by promoting policies that prioritize narrow economic purposes of schooling over holistic educational goals.

Voter Distaste for Sacramento Could Sink Education Initiatives

Commentary author
Summary

California voters express widespread concern about the state of their schools, with 42% giving schools a grade of D or F, and 57% believing they have deteriorated in recent years. The inadequacy of school funding is acknowledged, with over 40% rating state efforts poorly on a 10-point scale. Evidence from the PACE/USC Rossier Voter Poll reveals bipartisan skepticism about school funding, with Democrats slightly more optimistic. However, challenges loom for two funding initiatives on the November ballot. Despite recognition of funding issues, voters harbor deep skepticism about the state's ability to use resources efficiently, posing a significant political hurdle. The poll indicates voters' persistent doubt about the state's trustworthiness in spending money wisely, presenting a challenge for advocates of increased educational spending. The divisive debate among supporters of different funding propositions further complicates matters, potentially leading to the failure of both initiatives and significant consequences for the state's education system. Despite concerns about schools and acknowledgment of the need for more funding, voters appear skeptical about the achievability of educational improvement, posing a potential challenge for initiatives in the November elections.

For Aligned Instruction, State Must Have Aligned Standards, Assessments

Commentary author
Summary

A recent study examines the implementation of standards-based reform, particularly the alignment of state policies with teachers' instructional practices. Drawing on surveys from over 10,000 teachers in mathematics, science, and English language arts, the research identifies key correlations. It finds that teachers exhibit greater instructional alignment in states where standards and assessments align well, where standards cover a broader range of topics, and where there is a higher degree of accountability. The results have implications for California's Common Core implementation, highlighting the importance of improving alignment between assessments and standards. Additionally, the findings suggest that highly focused standards may pose challenges for teachers, necessitating additional support for fundamental changes in instructional content and form. This study underscores the significance of coherent state policies in enhancing instructional alignment and offers insights for improving educational practices in California and beyond.

Five Steps Ahead

A Fellow Researcher’s Take on Tierney and Hallett’s New Chapter
Commentary author
Peter Miller
Summary

In Tierney and Hallett's chapter, "Homeless Youth and Educational Policy: A Case Study of Urban Youth in a Metropolitan Area," the authors make a significant contribution to understanding and addressing the educational needs of homeless students. They highlight the broadness of the homeless label, emphasizing the diversity of backgrounds and experiences within this group. The focus on high school-aged homeless youth, a fast-growing yet understudied subgroup, is identified as crucial due to the unique challenges they face, including stigma and detachment from supportive relationships. The authors provide a useful typology for understanding the different subpopulations of homeless students, emphasizing the need for nuanced insights into their situations. The chapter also underscores the critical intersection of policy, student/family conditions, and school design in addressing homelessness. The authors' recommendations for school design, despite potential fiscal and political challenges, are praised for their thoughtfulness and ecological awareness. Notably, Tierney's leadership role in advocating for research and action in support of homeless students, given his influential position, is seen as encouraging and likely to have a positive impact on the broader field of education research.

Educational Experiences of Homeless Youth in Los Angeles

Commentary authors
Ronald Hallett
William Tierney
Summary

A 2007 study in Los Angeles explored the educational experiences of homeless youth, revealing that while they face low academic achievement and high dropout rates, there was limited research on their understanding and engagement with the educational process. The study, based on interviews with 120 homeless youth and 45 policymakers and educators, found that homeless youth are diverse, requiring educational supports tailored to their varied needs. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act offers federal protections, but there are issues with enforcement, such as transportation barriers and registration requirements. The study recommends enforcing federal law, developing educational alternatives like transitional schools, providing long-term mentors for homeless youth, and establishing sustained relationships between shelters and educational organizations. These recommendations aim to address the challenges faced by homeless youth in accessing and succeeding in education, emphasizing the need for targeted support and collaboration between schools, shelters, and community organizations.

AVID at Community Colleges Offers New Opportunities to Reach High-Need Students

Commentary author
Summary

American community colleges enroll 46% of U.S. undergraduates, with a majority being African American and Hispanic students. Facing budget constraints, California community colleges are vital, and the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, successful in middle and high schools, is explored as a model for supporting underprepared students. A case study examines AVID's initial implementation in a northern California community college, revealing positive impacts on student focus, organization, and motivation. Challenges include faculty resistance and institutional change. The implementation aims to transform college culture to better serve underrepresented students transferring to four-year institutions. With Governor Jerry Brown's funding cut for high school AVID programs, AVID in community colleges gains importance. AVID for Higher Education emphasizes essentials like retention and graduation time. The study offers a framework for leveraging AVID's potential in higher education, supporting underprepared and historically underrepresented students in community colleges.

Mental Health Services

A Cost-Effective Option for Increased Learning
Commentary author
Summary

California has the lowest elementary school counselor-per-student ratio in the U.S., with most schools lacking counselors. A recent study found that states adopting aggressive counseling policies experienced positive changes in student learning and behavior. Mandates for a minimum counselor–student ratio or subsidizing counselor employment reduced teacher-reported instructional issues and lowered problems like fights, cutting class, stealing, or drug use. Greater counselor availability correlated with improved student learning and mental health. The findings suggest substantial benefits from additional elementary school counselors, making them potentially cost-effective interventions. Even in tight fiscal times, mandating a minimum level of mental health services in schools could be wise, leading to better student and teacher welfare. Future research could explore the most effective form of mental health services in schools, considering counselors, social workers, or psychologists in school-based health centers.

Technical Assistance Can Play a Key Role for Poorly-Performing Schools

Commentary authors
Summary

Researchers investigate the efficacy of California's technical assistance response to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requirements, specifically focusing on District Assistance and Intervention Teams (DAITs) in low-performing districts. A new study spans three years and examines the impact on student achievement in math and English language arts (ELA) for Program Improvement Year 3 (PI3) districts, separating them into DAIT and non-DAIT groups. The findings reveal a statistically significant positive impact of DAITs on math achievement, with suggestive evidence of improvements in ELA scores. Additionally, DAITs contribute to reducing achievement gaps among different student groups. While the study cannot pinpoint the specific actions of DAITs leading to improved outcomes, it highlights their potential role in enhancing focus on data-guided instruction, shaping district culture with high expectations, and increasing within-district accountability. Results suggest that intensive technical assistance interventions, such as DAITs, could be a cost-effective means of improving student achievement in low-performing schools and districts, emphasizing the importance of exploring technical assistance provisions in accountability policies for broader applications.

RAND Study Consistent with LAO Surveys

Commentary author
Rachel Ehlers
Summary

The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) conducted surveys from 2010 to 2012, gathering data on California school districts' response to recent state actions affecting their budgets. Echoing RAND's findings, the LAO observed widespread use of categorical flexibility, with districts shifting Tier 3 funds toward general purposes. Over 90% of 2012 respondents noted that categorical flexibility facilitated budget development, aligning with RAND's conclusion that it helped maintain fiscal solvency, staff retention, and core educational programs. These findings highlight the impact of the state's budget crisis on districts' use of Tier 3 flexibility. While some advocate for increased local discretion over K–12 funds to encourage school-based decision-making, fiscal constraints and Tier 3 limitations suggest a different reality. Despite challenges, district feedback from both surveys indicates a preference for expanded near-term categorical flexibility and the permanent elimination of most existing categorical programs. The surveys imply that recent flexibility provisions, amid significant budget reductions, have reshaped districts' budgeting and program prioritization. The current disconnect between Tier 3 funding allocations and student needs underscores the necessity for fundamental restructuring in California's K–12 funding system, contingent upon the state's ability to monitor student achievement and ensure accountability.

Potential Benefits of School Funding Flexibility Mitigated by Budget Crunch

Commentary author
Summary

California grapples with crucial decisions on school funding allocation, debating between categorical funding and flexible use of funds. In 2007–08, 40% of state funds for K–12 education were categorical, but a 20% reduction and removal of restrictions from 40 programs (Tier 3) in the following year allowed districts more fiscal flexibility, providing a unique opportunity to observe outcomes. A 2010 study by RAND Corporation, UC Berkeley and Davis, and San Diego State University assessed the impact. The survey involved chief financial officers in 223 districts. The findings indicate that most districts used the newfound flexibility to balance budgets and preserve existing programs rather than initiate new initiatives. The flexibility allowed reallocation of categorical aid money into general funds, affecting specific programs. Teacher professional development and general-purpose school improvement funding were commonly reallocated. Notably, major categorical aid decisions were predominantly made by district office staff and superintendents, not school principals. The fiscal environment, marked by an 18% reduction in state funding since the recession, strongly influenced allocation decisions. Researchers conclude that the hope for widespread innovation through local control proved unrealistic, although flexibility allowed districts to respond adeptly to changing fiscal conditions during a budget crisis.