A Promise to What, for Whom, and Where?
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This brief describes the types of college promises that exist in the state of California. In doing so, we summarize existing research on this topic. Furthermore, we provide a framework to study the California Promise Program in community colleges in California. We use publicly available data to highlight key aspects of our proposed framework: What are we promising, to whom, and where? We end our brief by providing key recommendations to ensure that the promise extends to the most vulnerable groups of students to help in closing equity gaps in college degree and completion in California.

A Summary of the PACE Policy Research Panel
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More than 725,000 of California’s K-12 students qualified for special education services in 2018-19, but they entered a system that is often ill-equipped to serve them. This brief summarizes the findings from the PACE Policy Research Panel on Special Education: Organizing Schools to Serve Students with Disabilities in California. We find opportunities for improvement in early screening, identification, and intervention; transitions into and out of special education services; educator preparation and ongoing support; and availability of mental and physical health services.

Characteristics, Outcomes, and Transitions
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In this brief, we leverage data from eight school districts, known as the CORE districts, to describe students with disabilities (SWDs) by their characteristics, outcomes, and transitions into and out of special education. We found that the most common disability type was a specific learning disability. Relative to their representation among students districtwide, males, African Americans, English language learners, and foster youth were more highly represented among SWDs. In terms of outcomes, chronic absence was more prevalent among children with multiple disabilities.

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Only about 10 percent of eligible infants and toddlers with developmental delays nationwide receive early intervention services, which are widely agreed to reduce delays and lessen the adverse effects of risk factors and disabilities on learning and development. California serves fewer children than the national average. Challenges arise from spotty screening; tenuous linkages to referral and evaluation; and the intricacies of crossing multiple agencies—sometimes without knowledge of  English—for families.

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California continues to fall below national averages in identifying and serving infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with developmental disabilities. The transition between infant/toddler services, administered by the Department of Developmental Services, and preschool services for 3- to 5-year-olds, administered by the Department of Education, is fraught with several factors that hinder progress.

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While California Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CA CCSSM) call for rigorous mathematics for all students, students with disabilities have not been provided equal access to instruction that meets these standards. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework to develop strategic, expert learners within classroom settings that maximize engagement of a wide variety of students, including students with disabilities.

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Preparing all students, including students with disabilities, for life after high school is a critical responsibility for California’s education system. Engaging students and their families in discussions regarding careers, employment, and the pre-requisites for postsecondary education, training, and employment must start early and continue throughout their educational experiences. While there are programs in California that benefit students as they explore career opportunities, students with disabilities are seldom included in these programs.

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One of the key purposes of public education is to prepare young people to reach their full potential as independent adults and engaged citizens. This transition to adulthood may be especially challenging for youth with disabilities. Students enrolled in special education often need additional supports and coordinated planning to prepare for employment, postsecondary education, and community living.

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California is in the midst of a severe special education teacher shortage that threatens the state’s ability to improve outcomes for students with disabilities, who often have the greatest needs but receive the least expert teachers. To help policymakers address the shortage, the Learning Policy Institute conducted an analysis of the special education teacher workforce to provide an update on the shortage and its causes.

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Students with learning disabilities are spending more time in general education classrooms than at any point in history, yet there remain concerns whether general education teachers are receiving adequate preparation to support these students. Considering the rapid adoption of new accountability measures of teacher preparation programs (TPPs), including teaching performance assessments (e.g. edTPA), there is little understanding of what components of teacher preparation relate to teachers’ perceptions of readiness to educate students with learning disabilities in inclusive classrooms.

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This brief provides recommendations for the professional development (PD) of teachers, administrators, and school personnel in order to improve student outcomes. The significant achievement gap for diverse learners—including students with disabilities, a vast majority of whom are also culturally and/or linguistically diverse—can be reduced through high quality and ongoing PD. Unfortunately, there are numerous barriers to effective PD. To address these barriers, this brief outlines recommendations for best practices in PD for teachers and other school staff.

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Under California’s System of Support, differentiated assistance (DA) provides supports to eligible districts to boost student group performance levels. This brief describes the districts that were eligible for DA in 2019 based on the performance levels of their students with disabilities (SWD). It also analyzes how SWD performance on State Priority Areas (SPAs) and indicators factored into districts’ eligibility for DA. Findings show that, among the 333 districts identified for DA, eligibility was driven, in part, by SWD performance for over half of those districts.

Lessons from Other States
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California faces challenges in its efforts to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities (SWDs), especially regarding SWDs’ participation in general education originally mandated by PL 94-142. Research evidence consistently indicates that inclusion of SWDs in general education classrooms, to the extent possible, has positive benefits to both SWDs and general education students. This report describes strategies used in three states that appear to help increase the inclusion rates for SWDs.

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This brief examines California’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), which is a framework designed to identify and assist students performing below grade level. MTSS involves at least three tiers of support; Tier 2 includes personalized assistance. Unfortunately, Tier 2 services are not adequately resourced so it is not surprising that California students rank only 38th in the nation in reading and math. To move higher, it is important that the state provide categorical funding for Tier 2 services. California teachers already have a full-time job.

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This brief identifies the steps necessary to realize an integrated system of care, reviews two current approaches, and makes recommendations—including specifying policy reforms that would promote interagency collaboration, integration, service delivery, and improved outcomes for California’s children, both with and without disabilities.

Views from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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With important state and national elections looming, where do California voters stand on some of the major education policy issues of the day? This report examines findings from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier poll of California voters. The poll represents the views of 2,000 registered California voters across a range of topics from early childhood education to higher education. Based on these results, we have identified five key findings:

A Progress Report One Year After Getting Down to Facts II
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The Getting Down to Facts II (GDTFII) project, released in September 2018, assessed the state of preK–12 education in California. As year 2 of Governor Newsom’s term begins, this report provides a progress update on three areas of concern raised by the research findings and highlights what may be coming next.

The Scale and Distribution of Community College Participation Among California High School Students
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Research shows that dual enrollment—a practice in which high school students take college courses while they are still in high school—has multiple benefits for student success in both systems. To capitalize on those benefits, California and other states have moved in recent years to increase high school students’ access to college courses. 

Implementation Challenges and Successes from Two District Cases
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When then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) into law in 2013, California’s leaders were hopeful that this legislation would set high expectations for flexibility, transparency, and equity within school districts. A key component of the legislation was to allow districts more flexibility to make spending decisions as they saw fit to serve their students.

Challenges and Opportunities in California
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With the infusion of new funds, Governor Gavin Newsom has placed early childhood education high on California’s policy agenda. Yet the state still faces the complicated challenge of sustaining and building on the progress children make in preK. Research has shown that preK–3 alignment—coordinating preK–3 standards, curricula, instructional practices, assessments, and teacher professional development—can be an effective means to this end. A 2020 PACE study designed to better understand the state’s preK–3 alignment landscape finds the following:

Conditions Shaping Educators’ Use of Social–Emotional Learning Indicators
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Researchers have amassed considerable evidence on the use of student performance data (e.g., benchmark and standardized state tests) to inform educational improvement, but few have examined the use of nonacademic indicators (e.g., indicators of social and emotional well-being) available to educators, and whether the factors shaping academic data use remain true for these newer types of data.

Counties, Differentiated Assistance, and the New School Dashboard
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California’s new Statewide System of Support is grounded in the fundamental principles of the Local Control Funding Formula, especially its emphasis on the central role of local educators in determining the best approaches to improvement. This report examines the early implementation of the System of Support, with a focus on the work of the county offices of education (COEs) and the experience of the districts identified for differentiated assistance.

California’s College Readiness Standards and Lessons from District Leaders
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During the past decade, education leaders and policymakers have made significant investments to better align California’s K-12 and postsecondary education systems and to address persistent disparities in educational attainment by race and socioeconomic status.
The Vision for County Offices of Education
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County offices of education (COEs) are expected to provide ongoing support to districts and other local education agencies to drive continuous improvement within California’s education system. Fulfilling this role has required COEs to carry out their historical role as compliance monitors while simultaneously developing the necessary mindsets, skills, and structures and process to build the capacity for continuous improvement within their own offices and the districts they serve.
Survey Results
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In this brief we summarize findings from three surveys that sought to learn how county offices of education (COEs) are changing in response to the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the Statewide System of Support (SSS). COEs have been assigned critically important responsibilities in the implementation of these initiatives, and our survey results suggest that most county superintendents are strongly supportive of the state’s new policy direction.