Implications of Evolving Registration Priority Policies in California's Community Colleges

Commentary authors
Jillian Leigh Gross
Peter Riley Bahr
Summary

With the passing last year of California’s Proposition 30, the California Community College (CCC) system received a small reprieve from years of grueling budget cuts exacerbated by soaring student demand. Consequently, the number of course sections being offered is on the rise, and the number of waitlisted students per college has dropped from an average of 7,157 in 2012 to 5,026 this fall 2013. Unfortunately, too many students still are unable to pursue their educational goals in California’s community colleges—a result of the current state of de facto “seat rationing,” which threatens the capacity of the colleges to continue their foundational open-access policies.

The Counseling Opportunity Structure

Examining Correlates of Four-Year College-Going Rates
Commentary authors
Aliza Gilbert
Mark Engberg
Summary

High school counselors play a critical role in college attainment but historically they have remained in the shadows. The Pathways to College Act, bipartisan legislation proposed initially in the 111th Congress, highlights the unique and important role that counselors play in both academic achievement and college access and is reflective of the changing times. Unfortunately, most schools do not have a systemic means of distributing college and financial aid information to students, and even fewer help students understand the relevance of academic preparation in the college process.

Retained Students and Classmates’ Absences in Urban Schools

Commentary author
Summary

Generally speaking, research does not support the practice of grade retention: studies have shown that being retained can have negative effects on students, both academically and developmentally. And yet, while these effects of retention on retained students are fairly well documented, very little work has examined how retention might also have an effect on other, non-retained students in the same classroom. 

The Limitations of Year-Round School Calendars as Cost-Saving Reform

Commentary author
PACE
Summary

In any given year, California alone has typically accounted for roughly half of total enrollment in year-round school calendars nationally. It is likely that this school policy option was so widely embraced in California due to the fact that the state experienced school crowding issues and that year-round school calendars often appear to be a promising solution. Year-round calendars redistribute the same number of school days more evenly across the year. A particular type of year-round calendar, multi-track, does this in a way that supports a larger student body in the same school facility. The multi-track year-round calendar has therefore gained the reputation of being a cost-saving remedy to school crowding.

Impact of a Classroom-based Guidance Program on Student Performance in Community College Math Classes

Commentary authors
Kristin Butcher
Mary Visher
Summary

With the passage of the Student Success Act of 2012, leaders of higher educational institutions in California are grappling with how to comply with its new requirements.  One of the main recommendations of the Student Success Task Force was to restructure the way student support services are delivered to increase the quality of assistance students receive early in their college careers.  Our randomized-controlled evaluation of a guidance program implemented at South Texas College (STC) in McAllen, Texas, may hold some lessons for policy-makers and practitioners in California, and for their counterparts around the country.

Shaping Professional Development to Promote the Diffusion of Instructional Expertise among Teachers

Commentary author
Min Sun
Summary

Professional development has been used by schools and districts as a major support for teachers to successfully implement rigorous content standards, develop new curriculum, and change classroom instruction in ways that improve student learning. In California, as in many other states, demand for high-quality professional development is rising, especially with the adoption of the new Common Core State Standards. The increasing demand, coupled with continued tight state budgets in education, calls for more effective ways of designing teacher professional development. Better evidence about mechanisms by which teachers can learn best from professional development could contribute to the design and implementation of more effective professional devel­opment programs.

Effects of Home-based and School-based Summer Literacy Programs

Commentary authors
James S. Kim
Summary

In California, low-income children continue to lag behind their wealthier peers in reading achievement; in 2012, 46.3% of economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or above on state reading tests, compared to 76.5% of advantaged students.  Although there are many underlying causes of income-based disparities in reading, low-income children are particularly at risk of falling behind their classmates in reading during the summer months and summer literacy programs may help prevent summer slide for low income students. 

Funding Special Education by Total District Enrollment

Advantages, Disadvantages, and Policy Considerations
Commentary author
PACE
Summary

Students with disabilities in the United States are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). While the IDEA improves education access and quality for students with disabilities by requiring that school districts provide the services and supports necessary to meet their individual needs, the costs of educating students with disabilities are generally higher than the costs of educating other students. At a time when many states are facing tight budgets and growing special education costs, a new policy brief describes a method that several states, including California, have adopted for allocating special education aid among school districts to help contain special education costs.

Teacher Participation in Content-Focused Professional Development and the Role of State Policy

Commentary authors
Kristie J.R. Phillips
Laura Desimone
Thomas M. Smith
Summary

Recent research has demonstrated the potential for teacher professional development to enhance teacher learning, improve instruction, and increase student achievement. Nevertheless, research examining the relationship between state and local policies and teachers’ participation in professional development is sparse. This connection between policy environments and teacher-based outcomes becomes increasingly important as educational reforms place new demands on teachers. Since professional development is a key mechanism to improving teachers’ instruction and students’ achievement, we address the extent to which state and school policy environments are associated with teachers’ participation in content-focused professional development.

Financial Aid’s Role in Meeting State College Completion Goals

Commentary author
PACE
Summary

In a new study, Nicholas Hillman and Erica Lee Orians review the most recent and rigorous research on the role financial aid plays in improving college completion rates. With tuition rates consistently outpacing inflation and family incomes, along with the slow growth in educational attainment rates, the need for reforming state financial aid programs is becoming increasingly urgent to state policymakers. What can be done to reform state aid in ways that help increase college completion rates?

The Gap That Can’t Go Away

The Catch-22 of Reclassification in Monitoring the Progress of English Learners
Commentary author
PACE
Summary

When English Learners (ELs) demonstrate English language proficiency they are reclassified as Fluent English Proficient (RFEP). At any particular grade level and across grade levels, evaluating the progress of “English Learners” might include current English Learners (ELs), those who have been reclassified (RFEPs), and the combination of the two, which includes all students initially classified as ELs (IELs = ELs + RFEPs). A recent study demonstrates the importance of evaluating the progress of all three groups and illustrates a simple but often unrecognized Catch-22. Among all the students who are initially classified as English Learners (IELs), those who are most successful—those who develop and demonstrate proficiency in English and are reclassified (RFEPs)—typically do not factor into evaluations of English Learner progress.

Teaching to the Accountability Policy

Commentary author
Eugene Judson
Summary

There’s an old adage that states “what gets tested, gets taught.” However, my research has shown that adage probably needs to be revised to “what gets tested, and included in school accountability calculations, gets taught.” It’s not as succinct, but it is more accurate. Specifically, even though there has been a tremendous national fervor to promote science education, science has taken a backseat to reading and math during the No Child Left Behind years. While reading and math were required to be included in school accountability calculations, science has been optional—and it is an option that was rarely chosen.

The Impacts of Success for All on Reading Achievement

Commentary author
PACE
Summary

As millions of Californian students enjoy their summer break, an important reality is that in the fall, many students will not return to their previous school with their classmates but instead will attend a brand new one.  Such non-promotional student mobility has negative consequences for mobile students themselves, but it also challenges educators, who must meet the learning needs of these students despite instructional discontinuity.

Class or Race

How Does Socioeconomic Diversity Affect Cross-Racial Interactions?
Commentary author
PACE
Summary

Questions concerning class diversity in higher education generally focus on the point of enrollment versus what actually happens once students get there. In a recent research study, titled “Does Socioeconomic Diversity Make a Difference? Examining the Effects of Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity on the Campus Climate for Diversity,” Julie J. Park (University of Maryland, College Park), Nida Denson (University of Western Sydney), and Nicholas Bowman (Bowling Green State University) consider whether any educational benefits are associated with attending a socioeconomically diverse institution.

Can High Schools Reduce College Enrollment Gaps with a New Counseling Model?

A Summary of a Research Study
Commentary authors
Jennifer L. Stephan
James E. Rosenbaum
Summary

State and federal policymakers are striving to improve four-year college attendance for disadvantaged students. Despite a dramatic increase in the opportunity to attend college, disadvantaged students often enroll at higher rates in two-year colleges, which are associated with lower educational attainment and earnings. Successfully navigating the complex and unpredictable procedures of four-year college applications and financial aid requires students to make plans and take actions that in turn depend on college knowledge and assistance, which many students cannot get from their parents.

The Limits of Career and Technical Education in Improving Math Achievement among High School Students

Commentary author
Robert Bozick
Summary

Career and technical education (CTE) has long remained on the fringe of school reform. Unfairly saddled with the stereotype as a “dumping ground” for low achieving students from an earlier era when vocational coursework consisted primarily of shop class and home economics, CTE still struggles to maintain a foothold in the national dialogue on school improvement which, for better or for worse, remains narrowly focused on proficiency in academic topics and the assessment of those proficiencies.

Improving Accountability through Expanded Measures of School Performance

Commentary authors
Laura S. Hamilton
Heather L. Schwartz
Summary

California is one of the few states that implemented a school-based accountability system prior to No Child Left Behind. The Public School Accountability Act of 1999 created the Academic Performance Index (API) that includes ELA, mathematics, science, history/social studies, and writing, as well as high school graduation. This puts California ahead of many other states that are now trying to move beyond the NCLB measures. Like these other states, California is seeking to improve the API by including measures of student growth, readiness for college and careers and other important academic and social goals.

No Child Left with Crayons

The Imperative of Arts-based Education and Research with Language 'Minority' and Other Minoritized Communities
Commentary authors
Sharon Verner Chappell
Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor
Summary

In our article, “No Child Left with Crayons: The Imperative of Arts-based Education and Research with Language “Minority” and Other Minoritized Communities,” we observe that since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, public discourse on “failing schools” as measured by high-stakes standardized tests has disproportionately affected students from minoritized communities (such as language, race, class, dis/ability. This discourse emphasizes climates of assessment at the expense of broader, more democratic, and creative visions of education. As advocates of the arts in education and multicultural-multilingual learning for all, we express concern about the ways in which the “crayons” have started to disappear from public school learning and/or are solely included as handmaidens to improved academic achievement. 

Are Larger Class Sizes a Problem Worth Worrying About?

Commentary author
PACE
Summary

In recent years, budget cuts have caused increases in class size in states across the nation.  Between 2009 and 2010, the pupil-teacher ratio in the U.S. increased by more than half a student for the first time since the Great Depression.

The Case for EL Specialists

Commentary author
Eugene Garcia
Summary

English language learners (ELLs) continue to outpace the non-ELL population in K-12 school enrollment, with the largest increases observed in regions with traditionally low numbers of ELLs.  These ELL enrollment increases collide with a long-standing shortage of bilingual and ESL teachers nationwide, and particularly in regions where ELL enrollment is high.  As budgetary constraints impact school support for professional development, ELLs are routinely placed in mainstream classrooms, full-time or for the majority of their school day, with teachers who have little or no ELL preparation.  

All Teachers Need English Learner Training

Commentary author
PACE
Summary

Approximately one in five students in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home, with the majority concentrated in early elementary grades and approximately 70% speaking Spanish as their native language. Despite the dramatic growth of Latino English learners over the past several decades, these students continue to be taught disproportionately by less qualified teachers. To be in compliance with Titles I and III of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), however, schools must use instruction that is supported empirically and demonstrate adequate yearly academic progress among English learners.

Can Research Design Explain Variation in Head Start Research Results?

Commentary authors
Hilary M. Shager
Holly A. Schindler
Katherine A. Magnuson
Greg J. Duncan
Hirokazu Yoshikawa
Cassandra M. D. Hart
Summary

The recognition that school-entry academic skills of poor children lag well behind those of their more advantaged peers has focused attention on early childhood education (ECE) as a potential vehicle for remediating early achievement gaps. The proliferation of high quality evaluations of ECE programs can yield important information about differences in the effectiveness of particular program models, but only if we understand the context of ECE research and are confident that divergent findings reflect meaningful differences in program effectiveness rather than technical differences in study design.

California’s Increasing Graduation Rate Outpaces the Nation

Commentary author
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

Commentary author
PACE
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.