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California is the fifth largest economy in the world and the wealthiest state in the nation. The Golden State is home to countless tech giants, an enormous entertainment industry, major agricultural regions, and many other successful industries. California households earn a median income of $71,000 per year, more than $10,000 above the national average. However, California school funding—even before COVID-19—was insufficient to meet educational goals and address the needs of students, particularly given the state’s high cost of living. How can that be true?

Insights from California's Local Control Funding Formula
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This policy brief uses the case of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) to provide policy makers and educators guidance on how to involve the public in goal setting and resource distribution decisions. It provides clarity around who is and is not participating, why, and what broader lessons we can draw for implementing federal and state education policies mandating public engagement. The findings indicate tremendous room for improvement.

A Summary Brief
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California and the rest of the country are enduring a pandemic-induced economic recession, and school and district leaders are bracing for the fallout. Funding for California schools had improved rapidly between 2013 and 2019, with districts spending roughly $13,100 per pupil in 2018–19 as compared with $9,680 only 6 years earlier. However, that level of funding still fell short of what would have been adequate given California’s goals as a state, the student population it serves, and its cost of living.

Lessons for COVID-19
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In March 2020, most schools in the U.S. transitioned to distance learning. During the transition a significant number of students did not fully engage in learning opportunities. This brief uses administrative panel data from the CORE Districts in California to approximate the impact of the pandemic by analyzing how absenteeism has affected student outcomes in the recent past. We show wide variation in absenteeism impacts on academic and social-emotional outcomes by grade and subgroup, as well as the cumulative effect of different degrees of absence.

Pivoting Amid COVID-19
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The educators of Ayer Elementary in Fresno Unified School District began their continuous improvement journey in 2016. The stability of their underlying organizational conditions to engage in improvement work—a shared purpose, mutual trust, structures and resources that foster collaborative work, and preparation and mobilization of improvement capabilities—was put to the test as their focus pivoted in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

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A new PACE brief summarizes key points from the report Enabling Conditions and Capacities for Continuous Improvement: A Framework for Measuring and Supporting Progress Towards the Goals of the Statewide System of Support and contextualizes the findings within the current challenge of supporting teaching and learning during a pandemic.

Removing Barriers to Data Accessibility
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Parental engagement has been shown to be a key lever for improving outcomes for all students. It can positively influence grades, test scores, and graduation rates for all students. Increased engagement is also shown to improve the outcomes of underserved student populations, positively impacting low-income, Black, and Latinx students in both primary and secondary settings. Additionally, parental engagement has been found to be a critical support in blended and distance learning environments—a need that has intensified with the shift to distance learning in response to COVID-19.

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With the context of schooling so disrupted, many traditional methods of grading have been disrupted as well. For example, counting student participation or completion of practice work is difficult when students have unequal access to the internet for class time. What can research tell us about grading and assessment practices schools could use in the year ahead? This brief discusses grading and assessment practices that research suggests have the flexibility needed during this time of disruption, to support student learning and measure that learning in a meaningful way.

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How can schools provide high-quality distance and blended learning during the pandemic? This brief includes a mix of rigorous evidence from extant studies, data from interviews with practitioners who described their learnings from informal experimentation during the spring of 2020, and expert researchers who thought about how to apply research to the current context.

Breaking Down the Issues

A Guide for Parents, Families, and the Public
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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of school districts in California will not have in-person teaching in fall 2020. Over the months ahead, parents, educators, and the public will have to navigate uncertainty in weighing the costs and benefits of opening schools versus supporting learning remotely. This brief offers the questions that parents, educators, and the public should ask about the education, health, safety, and social-emotional needs of children and adults when considering plans for reopening during the pandemic.

Evidence and Implications
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When California’s students return to school this fall, schools can play a pivotal role in preventing, assessing, and addressing trauma in order to support students’ well-being. We summarize the existing evidence base on multi-tiered trauma-informed practices that offer increasingly intensive tiers of support. Although many multi-tiered models of trauma-informed approaches have been implemented in schools, the evidence base demonstrating their wholescale effectiveness is limited. The most compelling evidence comes from approaches within the more intensive tiers.

Sanger Unified and the Pivot–Sanger Multi-Tiered System of Supports Project
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Equity is the consistent thread that runs through major California education policies of the last decade, which have focused on providing access and opportunity tailored to students’ needs in order to reduce disparities in learning outcomes. Equity challenges, already significant prior to COVID-19, have been exacerbated by the pandemic’s education disruptions.

A COVID-19 Recovery Strategy
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Community school strategies have emerged as a promising approach to mitigate the social and learning impacts of COVID-19. This brief draws on how the crisis-motivated responses of educators and school leaders might serve as integral investments in successful and sustainable community schools. Schools and districts interested in such an approach need to examine and reform the underlying classroom, school, and district behaviors and systems that get in the way of student-centered collaboration, partnership, and teaching.

Research to Guide Distance and Blended Instruction
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Though the delivery of instruction in the 2020–21 school year will be altered to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a long-standing research base on high-quality instruction can inform decisions about students’ learning and engagement. The following ten recommendations distill the key findings from the PACE report Supporting Learning in the COVID-19 Context, which offers a framework for educators and district leaders to use in their preparation to provide quality instruction through distance and blended models.

What California’s Leaders Must Do Next to Advance Student Learning During COVID-19
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On July 17th, 2020, Governor Newsom announced that all K–12 schools in California counties with rising COVID-19 infections would be required to teach remotely. Without a strong focus on improving the quality of remote education at scale, students could lose up to a year’s worth of learning, and as many as 1.1 million students could fail to graduate high school. That academic impact would be felt most acutely by low-income, Black, and Latinx students. California’s leaders must act now to prioritize equity and ensure quality across all of the state’s districts.

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This article illustrates the application of mixture IRT models to evaluate respondent confusion due to the negative wording of certain items on a social-emotional learning (SEL) assessment.

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Prior work has shown that levels of self-reported student social-emotional learning (SEL) predict student achievement levels—as well as student achievement gains—but little has been done to understand if within-student changes in student reports of SEL are predictive of changes in theoretically related academic and behavioral outcomes.

A Rural District’s Response to COVID-19
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COVID-19 has disrupted California’s education system in fundamental ways. Districts across the state are quickly creating strategies to serve all students, and many are designing their response around the needs of their most vulnerable students. This brief highlights the response of Mother Lode Union School District (MLUSD) to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which district staff and teachers were able to collaborate—despite the unprecedented crisis—to meet student needs.

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The use of the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) to improve early childhood education program quality is based in part on assumptions that the quality of programs can be measured and that quality ratings are associated with meaningful differences in learning outcomes for children.

Evidence From the First Large-Scale Panel Student Survey
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A growing number of school systems use self-report surveys to track students’ social-emotional development as a tool to inform policy and practice.

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Students suffer learning losses over the summer holiday in the best of circumstances; the COVID-19 school closures are likely to intensify that effect. While it is impossible to know at this point to what degree learning loss will be impacted by this extraordinary circumstance, research demonstrates that academic “slide” is typically observed most in math and, to a somewhat lesser extent, reading.

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Governor Newsom has discussed staggered or multi-track calendars as an option for going back to school in fall 2020. A review of research on multi-track calendars shows that over time there are slight negative effects on learning, but this research was done during a period where the alternative was a traditional calendar. In the current situation, which would otherwise have students staying home entirely, a staggered calendar would have clear learning benefits and would help both parents and teachers get back to work.

Publication authors
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COVID-19 presents an array of challenges for school districts. In this brief, we share some promising practices learned from California’s Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD), particularly in the areas of family engagement and instructional access for English learners.

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California’s CORE districts—a consortium of eight school districts serving a racially and socioeconomically diverse population of over one million students—since 2014 have led the way in deploying measures of social and emotional learning (SEL) and school climate and culture. Influenced by surging interest and research support over the past decade, these districts have collected data in hopes of continuously improving how their K–12 schools address the social and emotional dimensions of student development.

Evidence from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier Annual Poll
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We use data from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier annual voter poll to report on California voters’ attitudes towards educational equity policy initiatives, specifically: (a) increasing the number of public school teachers of color in California and (b) requiring all high school students in California to complete an ethnic studies course. A majority of voters supported these initiatives. Respondents showed higher levels of support for increasing the number of teachers of color when informed about the positive academic impact this would likely have for students of color.