COVID-19 and the Educational Equity Crisis

Evidence on Learning Loss From the CORE Data Collaborative
Commentary authors
Summary

From the day California schools closed in March, researchers, policymakers, and educators alike have been concerned about the impact that the pandemic would have on student learning, and worried that our most vulnerable students will experience this so-called “learning loss” more than others. Given the critical importance of evidence to inform decision-making on school reopening, we are sharing early findings on student learning in Grades 4–10 in 18 school districts that are part of the CORE Data Collaborative. Our preliminary analysis shows that there has been significant learning loss in both English Language Arts and Math, with earlier grades, low-income students, and English learners most impacted.

A Tiered Approach to Ensuring Students Are Present, Engaged, and Supported in the 2020–21 School Year

Commentary authors
Cecelia Leong
Summary

As schools begin this fall, educators across California are examining how they can promote students showing up for class, whether instruction is offered remotely or in person. In our previous PACE commentary, we made recommendations for expanding the metrics used to monitor daily attendance and participation in distance learning. In this commentary, we make recommendations for how educators can respond to student attendance data to ensure students get the support they need to be present and engaged in learning.

Measuring Daily Attendance and Participation During COVID-19

An Invaluable Tool for Reducing Educational Inequity
Commentary authors
Cecelia Leong
Summary

Absenteeism is a leading indicator of educational inequity. With COVID-19, taking daily attendance and monitoring absenteeism is essential as chronic absence is a key predictor of later learning loss and an early warning sign that positive conditions of learning are not in place for students. While taking attendance is more complicated in the context of distance learning, it is still possible—and necessary.

COVID-19’s Impact on English Learner Students

Possible Policy Responses
Commentary author
Summary

As an immensely diverse group of students, English learners (ELs) will have widely varying experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and thus a broad range of educational, physical, and mental health-related needs. This commentary offers recommendations for how policy can support ELs whether education is online, in person, or both.

Understanding, Measuring, and Addressing Student Learning Needs During COVID-19 Recovery

Commentary author
Summary

Students re-entering the classroom following the COVID-19 crisis will likely experience severe learning loss and emotional challenges arising from their time out of school. Schools will need to develop tools for assessing students’ varied needs along with the resources, clear guidance, and flexibility to address them. This commentary is modified from testimony delivered to the California Assembly Budget Committee on April 28, 2020.

Moving Forward from COVID-19

Voters’ Opinions on Educational Equity Initiatives in California
Commentary author
Summary

COVID-19 and its concomitant school closures are affecting students in many ways; there is good reason to expect the pandemic will adversely impact educational equity. New PACE research uses data from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier annual voter poll to report on CA voter attitudes towards educational equity policy initiatives. A majority of voters supported a focus on ending racial inequality in educational outcomes and specific initiatives to do so, suggesting that voters may also support a targeted approach to mitigating the pandemic’s adverse effects on CA students who have been hardest hit.

Our Children’s Education Should be a Priority as California Recovers from Coronavirus

Commentary author
Summary

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed California and the nation into uncharted waters, especially with the impact on our schools. With the economy in decline and unemployment on the rise, school funding is likely to dip, triggering cuts across the system. This financial impact will come when our schools need more money, not less, to serve our state’s children. As we look toward recovery, Californians should make the kind of significant investments in our public schools that reflect their true importance to our students, families and future.

Supporting Online Learning in a Time of Pandemic

Commentary author
Karen Symms Gallagher
Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed almost all school systems in the U.S. online with little or no preparation. To be responsive in this time, USC Rossier faculty members have worked rapidly to prepare a report with immediately useful resources and concrete advice. Bringing together the expertise of faculty who have decades of experience teaching in virtual learning environments, as well as deep knowledge of teacher education pedagogy and educational psychology, this report provides recommendations that can serve as a practical guide for all educators during this difficult and complex time.

Distance Learning Playbook for California School Districts

Commentary author
Sam Olivieri
Summary

At this time of unprecedented challenge, districts have to both manage a rapid response to the current school closures and also prepare for the possibility of supporting students remotely for longer periods ahead, a process for which there is no roadmap. Learning Apart, Staying Connected: A Distance Learning Playbook was created for California school districts to support the development and roll-out of distance learning plans across the state.

Evidence to Inform Recovery

PACE’s Response to COVID-19
Summary

The closing of California’s physical learning spaces has significant implications for educational equity and access. In the coming weeks and months, PACE’s efforts will be focused on supporting real-time crisis response and helping the state build toward recovery. This commentary, the first in a new series designed to raise up evidence quickly to inform crisis response and recovery, details our approach.

Data and Evaluation

Spotlight on Chronic Absenteeism Toolkit
Commentary author
Summary

PACE research is featured in a repository on chronic absenteeism created by the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE). The collaborative offers toolkits, materials and other resources.

California’s Dashboard Data Will Guide Improvement

Commentary authors
Summary

After more than a decade of strict federal mandates and measures of school success, a new education law is inviting policymakers across the country to rethink “accountability.” The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) takes a more comprehensive approach to assessing school quality than the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), moving beyond NCLB’s focus on annual test performance to also consider factors like student academic growth, graduation rates, and rates of proficiency for English language learners.

Single Score Is a Misleading Way to Judge California’s Schools

Commentary author
Summary

magine you are a judge on a cooking show. Every contestant prepares three different dishes, and you must choose the best cook. But different cooks are good at different things, so what measure can you use to judge them all? That’s the question California lawmakers are grappling with in trying to rate schools. Historically, we’ve thrown all the things that schools do into a blender and judged the “soup” that comes out.

Testing the Causal Links Between School Climate, School Violence, and School Academic Performance

Commentary author
Rami Benbenishty
Summary

Many studies show that positive school climate and low levels of student bullying and violence are associated with improved academic performance. Currently, scientists and policy makers interpret this robust finding as evidence that climate improvement and violence reduction cause academic improvement. Nevertheless, this causal link has rarely been tested.

How Learning About Commonalities Can Improve Student-Teacher Relationships and Boost Achievement at School

Commentary author
Summary

Relationships to teachers are fundamental to the educational success of middle and high school students. Compared to those with more strained social connections, adolescents who have positive relationships with their instructors feel better about school, behave better in class, and achieve more in their studies. But improving teacher-student relationships poses a substantial challenge. Teens often lack the motivation to develop close personal ties with their teachers – and teachers often find themselves preoccupied with conveying the Common Core curriculum, prepping their charges for standardized tests, and administrative duties at school.

Establishing Equitable Policies for English Learners

Commentary author
Joseph P. Robinson-Cimpian
Summary

Current and former “English learners” (ELs) make up about 40 percent of California’s public-school student population. Establishing and implementing equitable policies and programs that simultaneously facilitate English proficiency and academic excellence for this group is of the utmost importance for the future wellbeing of California. In a new paper, Karen Thompson, Ilana Umansky, and I focus on what robust research suggests about effective policies concerning (1) EL reclassification, (2) use of native language, (3) access to the core curriculum, and (4) assessment and accountability. Here, I provide a brief overview of our policy conclusions.

Head Start at Ages 3 and 4 Versus Head Start Followed by State Pre–K

Which is More Effective?
Commentary author
Jade V. Marcus Jenkins
Summary

In light of evidence that high quality early learning experiences can improve low-income children’s school readiness and future academic success, a number of recent proposals at the federal and state levels would expand public early childhood education (ECE) programs.

Effectiveness of Four Instructional Programs Designed to Serve English Learners

Variation by Ethnicity and Initial English Proficiency
Commentary authors
Summary

On average, English learners (ELs) perform far worse than non-ELs on academic tests. More specifically, the math and reading gap between ELs and non-ELs is roughly one standard deviation. There has been a long-running debate over whether bilingual education is more beneficial than English-only instruction for ELs’ academic development. While there is slightly more empirical support suggesting that bilingual education is superior to English-only instruction for ELs, little of the research had come from randomized experiments or rigorous quasi-experiments, most had looked at short-term rather than long-term outcomes, and few had rigorously compared different types of bilingual instruction.

The Potential for School-Based Interventions that Target Executive Function to Improve Academic Achievement

A Review
Commentary author
Robin Jacob
Summary

Over the last 10-15 years, there has been a growing interest in the potential for school-based interventions that target executive function to improve academic achievement.  Executive function can be thought of as the set of cognitive skills required to direct behavior toward the attainment of a goal, including the ability to prioritize and sequence behavior, inhibit dominant responses, maintain task-relevant information in mind, resist distractions, switch between tasks, use information to make decisions and create abstract rules and handle novel situations.

Can Rigorous, Observation-based Teacher Evaluations Move the Needle on Student Achievement?

Commentary author
Matthew Steinberg
Summary

In the wake of the federal government’s 2010 Race to the Top initiative, states and local school districts have dramatically revised their teacher evaluation systems. These new systems incorporate more rigorous performance evaluation through the use of multiple measures of teacher performance and multiple ratings categories aimed at differentiating teacher effectiveness. By the start of the 2014-15 school year, 78% of states and 85% of the largest 25 districts and DC revised and implemented new systems. California is among the few states that have not instituted statewide teacher evaluation reforms.

The Racial School Climate Gap

Within-School Disparities in Students’ Experiences of Safety, Support, and Connectedness
Commentary author
Adam Voight
Summary

Racial and ethnic disparities in academic achievement pose challenges to educational equity in the United States. One feature of schools that may be related to these gaps and that has garnered increased attention of late is school climate, which refers to feelings of safety and connectedness, opportunities for meaningful participation, and the quality of relationships between students and staff. While climate is typically understood as a characteristic of schools, there is some evidence that students within the same school may experience safety, support, and relationships differently based on their race and ethnicity.

How Racial Segregation and Tracking Cumulatively Disadvantage Middle School Achievement

Commentary author
Roslyn Arlin Mickelson
Summary

Middle schools are a critical stage in the educational sequence that starts in preschool and culminates for many youth in higher education. High quality and equitable middle schools are essential if all adolescents are to achieve their highest educational potentials. Blacks, Latinos/as, and other disadvantaged minority youth are more likely than Whites or Asians to earn lower grades and standardized test scores in middle school. Such persistent racial differences in achievement suggest too many youth are failing to reach their potential while in middle school. 

English Learners’ Time to Reclassification

An Analysis
Commentary author
Summary

Approximately one in five children in the United States speak a language other than English at home, and approximately half of this group are in the process of acquiring English. Current accountability systems require that states establish targets for students’ English proficiency development. However, these targets are not always empirically grounded.

Science Test Score Gaps by Gender and Race/Ethnicity in Elementary and Middle School

Trends and Predictors
Commentary authors
North Cooc
Summary

Since the 1950s, leaders in education, science, politics, and business have stressed the need for “scientific literacy” among the U.S. general public. Today, concern over scientific literacy is growing due to the increasing demand for graduates entering careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  In the coming decades, science occupations are predicted to grow faster than the average rate for all fields, and a significant amount of science and math training will be required for 9 of the 10 fastest growing occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Aiming High and Falling Short

California’s Eighth-Grade Algebra-for-All Effort
Commentary author
Thurston Domina
Summary

The U.S. is in the midst of an effort to intensify middle school mathematics curricula by enrolling more eighth-graders in Algebra. California is at the forefront of this effort, and in 2008 the state moved to make Algebra the accountability benchmark test for 8th-grade mathematics. As a result, between 2004 and 2013, the proportion of California eighth-graders enrolled in Algebra or more advanced math classes nearly doubled, to approximately 65 percent. This effort was predicated on the notion that students learn more in academically challenging educational environments and supported by findings showing that exposing a student to more rigorous curricula and instruction increased achievement.