How School Districts Craft Coherence Towards Continuous Improvement
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Using qualitative case study methods, we examine how educators describe continuous improvement and craft coherence for implementation. We find that educators attempted to build system-wide improvement capabilities, taking into consideration theories of action for continuous improvement and managing change given the realities of their local contexts. We identify educators’ orientations for crafting coherence as a mechanism by which they attempt to integrate improvement strategies to their local contexts. Two bridging approaches to crafting coherence were found: weaving and stacking. By using...
A Summary Brief
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This brief summarizes key findings from the Bilingual Research Journal article “Understanding Newcomer English Learner Students’ English Language Development: Comparisons and Predictors.” The study analyzed incoming English proficiency and subsequent English language growth among newcomer students, and further explored how these compared to those of their non-newcomer peers classified as English learners. We found that, on average, newcomer students have low initial English proficiency levels but their English proficiency develops quickly. There is wide variation in newcomer English level and...
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Reclassification can be an important juncture in the academic experience of English learners (ELs). Literature has explored the potential for reclassification to influence academic outcomes like achievement, but its impact on social-emotional learning (SEL) skills, which are malleable and important for long-term success, remains unclear. Using a regression discontinuity design, we examine the causal effect of reclassification on SEL skills (self-efficacy, growth mindset, self-management, and social awareness) among fourth to eighth graders. In the districts studied, reclassification improved...
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This study examines the associations between county-level immigration arrests and academic achievement, absenteeism, and measures of school climate and safety for students in the California CORE districts. We found consistent evidence that Latinx and Latinx English learner students experienced declines in academic achievement, attendance, and perceptions of school climate and safety when there were more immigration arrests in the counties where their schools were located. These relationships were strongest for arrests that occurred during the Trump administration compared with those that...
The 2022 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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The 2021–22 academic year was profoundly challenging for California schools. Eight critical issues emerged as serious threats to student learning, the operation of schools, and even the very institution of public education: (1) gun violence, (2) politicization of and support for public education, (3) controversy over what is taught in schools, (4) student learning and well-being, (5) declining enrollment, (6) teacher shortages, (7) college affordability, and (8) long-term funding inadequacy and instability. These issues also present a threat to equity because they disproportionately affect the...

Lessons from Two Learning Networks
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Continuous improvement has a prominent place in California’s approach to educational accountability. But while there are proof points that show the potential of continuous improvement, currently there is not evidence that continuous improvement efforts are consistently leading to sustainable improvement in student outcomes and system functioning. This report analyzes the experiences of two organizations serving as the hubs of improvement networks, both of which led networks seeking to increase the proportion of students on track for postsecondary success during the 2020–21 school year. We...
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High schools in California—and around the country—increasingly offer computer science (CS) and often would like to expand CS offerings further. However, these expansions pose a number of challenges for administrators and policymakers, especially if they are going to happen effectively and equitably. We consider four of the most pressing challenges for CS expansions: (a) staffing issues, including equitable access to CS teachers; (b) curricular capacity; (c) school accountability pressure; and (d) equitable access to CS coursework. For each challenge, we discuss what the research tells us about...
Leadership, Partnership, and Community
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Public education today faces a troubling set of challenges, including declining enrollment, staffing shortages, and polarized communities, with school boards at the center of broader political debates. How did we arrive at this current state? This study—described here and, in more detail, in a related report—of seven California school districts conducted during the first 14 months of the COVID-19 pandemic explores how districts responded in real time to the unfolding health crisis as well as to the growing national reckoning about structural racism. Our case studies show that districts—often...
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California’s Assembly Bill 705 has affected the way that English learners (ELs) access English and English as a second language (ESL) coursework, requiring that degree- or transfer-seeking students have the right to enroll in English or ESL courses, and community colleges are responsible for implementing initial placement practices and designing curricular structures that maximize gateway English completion. We found that ELs who graduated from a US high school and then enrolled in a community college experienced much higher throughput rates when allowed to enroll directly in transferable...
Supporting Students During COVID-19
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In the wake of COVID-19, the California legislature mandated that local educational agencies (LEAs) develop detailed Learning Continuity and Attendance Plans (LCPs) to address student learning and progress during the 2020–21 academic year. This brief summarizes results of an analysis of nearly 1,000 LCPs from public school districts across the state to understand how they intended to support students in critical areas like instruction, technology, assessment, attendance, and well-being. Overall, districts planned to provide technology, assess student learning, employ tiered levels of support...
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The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting changes in schooling have been particularly difficult for students learning the English language. Recent research indicates that nearly 40 percent of English learners (ELs) nationwide were not receiving the services and support they needed to successfully engage with academic content during distance learning and that ELs experienced greater lags in learning than their peers. As the types and quality of instructional supports provided to ELs at school are vital to their educational outcomes, it is critical to understand how these students were supported...
Trade-offs and Policy Alternatives for California
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The method California uses to count students for funding purposes is an important decision that drives both resources and behaviors. For more than 100 years, California has funded school districts based on the average number of students who attend school each day. Although this average daily attendance (ADA) method was once used by many states, the practice has faded. Now, California is one of just six states that use ADA to allocate state education funding to school districts. The remaining states use other student count methods such as average enrollment. Some state legislators, advocates...
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At a time when students of families living in poverty have experienced the worst of the economic trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, community schools have reemerged as a promising intervention for addressing lack of access to quality education and economic prosperity. Policymakers are making investments in scaling up community schools; effective use of data will be key to the success of the expansion. This brief details findings from a 2021 research project that involved collaboration between the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the University of Southern California Center on...
A Case Study of Two High-Poverty School Districts
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This report examines two districts—Azusa Unified and Dinuba Unified—that have begun to shift district structures, policies, and culture to have a measurable effect on student outcomes. Both districts have committed to reducing the D/F rate for students (eighth graders in Dinuba and ninth graders in Azusa) as part of a learning community led by California Education Partners (Ed Partners). The districts have collaborated with Ed Partners for multiple years to refine their continuous improvement approach and build capacity for sustained improvement. Although neither district has realized its...
Lessons from Kern County
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Counties, districts, and schools have had to respond to ever-shifting issues related to COVID-19. This brief describes the complex challenges that district superintendents faced, which often required expertise in areas beyond traditional expectations for the role, particularly in public health. The brief gives examples of crisis management structures from one county office of education (COE)—Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS)—that helped to mitigate these challenges for local education agencies (LEAs) in its county. The strategies detailed in this brief provide a replicable model...
Evidence from the 2021 PACE/USC Rossier Annual Poll
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The 2021 PACE/USC Rossier poll provides key insights into Californians’ perceptions of higher education issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically equity and affordability. A large percentage of Californians acknowledge that college affordability is an important educational issue, and they generally express support for increased access to courses through remote options, increased funding for community colleges, loan forgiveness, and equitable admissions practices. However, public opinion on these issues is more nuanced; for example, Californians are concerned that increased access to...
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California enacted a groundbreaking shift to its school-funding system when it passed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013. The law sought to make funding more equitable and also aimed to increase local control based on the premise that budgeting decisions are best made at the local level in partnership with community stakeholders, who must, in turn, hold the district accountable. This report takes stock of LCFF 8 years after its passage and explores ways it can be further refined to improve equitable funding, opportunities, and outcomes in California. Our findings are based on: (a...

Critical Actions for Recovery and the Role of Research in the Years Ahead
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The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recently issued a report providing guidance on the future of education research at the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research, two centers directed by IES. The report identifies critical problems and issues; details new methods and approaches; and specifies the kinds of research investments needed in the future. In addition to hearing from outside experts and soliciting public input, the committee commissioned Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) to produce a paper to help synthesize...

The Impact of Unmotivated Questionnaire Responding on Data Quality
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Education researchers use surveys widely. Yet critics question respondents’ ability to provide high-quality responses. As schools increasingly use student surveys to drive local policymaking, respondents’ (lack of) motivation to provide quality responses may threaten the wisdom of using questionnaires for data-based decision making. To better understand student satisficing—the practice of suboptimal responding on surveys—and its impact on data quality, this article examines its pervasiveness and impact on a large-scale social-emotional learning survey administered to 409,721 elementary and...
Evidence from the 2021 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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In this brief, we use data from the 2021 PACE/USC Rossier Poll to report on California voters’ attitudes towards and engagement with local school district governance. Generally, our findings show relatively high support for school boards among California voters, although voters were less satisfied with school board performance in the context of the pandemic. Patterns of engagement also changed during the past year: some voters, particularly parents and higher income individuals, became more engaged in educational issues; others felt compelled to be more involved because they were unhappy or...
A Key Investment for COVID-19 Recovery
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A healing-centered community school implements a whole child approach to teaching and learning to address the fundamental physiological and safety needs of students as central to their cognitive development and growth. Strengthening and sustaining such strategies require intentional, complementary investments in policy, funding, and resources across general education, early learning, special education, health, and community development. This publication set provides guidance for educators, policymakers, and advocates who wish to deploy state and federal recovery resources to address immediate...
Views from the 2021 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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Growing inequities and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic together with billions of dollars in new funding present an opportunity to make substantial changes to K–12 education to better serve all students in California. In May 2021, PACE and USC Rossier School of Education fielded our annual poll of California voters, which sought to gain clarity about voters’ priorities on public education issues during this period in which Californians are beginning to look towards a postpandemic future. The following are 10 key findings from the poll.
Evidence From Interim Assessments in California
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At the first anniversary of school closures due to COVID-19, nearly half of the K–12 students in the U.S. were attending schools that were either fully remote or offering hybrid instruction, with more than 70 percent of California students attending schools remotely. For this reason, continued efforts to unpack the effects of COVID-19 on student outcomes are especially important for California students, who may be experiencing larger-than-average effects of continued school closures relative to the nation overall. In this report, we used data from multiple interim assessments to examine how...
Evidence from the CORE Districts
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Since spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has been abruptly interrupting regular instruction in almost all schools in the U.S. One year later, policymakers, district administrators, and educators are still balancing the benefits and risks of returning K–12 students to fully in-person school. Many are concerned about the pandemic’s disruption to students’ academic progress. In California, educators have been focused equally on students’ mental and emotional health, social relationships, and learning environment, given that many students have been learning remotely since the onset of the pandemic...
The Path Towards Reimagining and Rebuilding Schools
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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all students; however, its impact has been particularly devastating for students of color, students from low-income families, English learners, and other marginalized children and youth. As transmission rates decline and vaccination rates increase in California, many are eager to return to normalcy, but we must all recognize that even the prepandemic normal was not working for all students. The 2021–22 school year, therefore, constitutes a critical opportunity for schools to offer students, families, and educators a restorative restart. This is a moment for...