GDTFII Brief Improving
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Summary

California has a keen interest in ensuring the effectiveness of the teachers in its classrooms. The quality of teaching affects student learning and has a lasting impact on students’ success in school and in the labor market. Improving the quality of teaching is a crucial linchpin in California’s efforts to address many of its pressing education challenges.

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.
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.

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.
The Implications of Marin’s Rising Pension Costs and Tax Revolt for Increasing Education Funding
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Voters in Marin County have long been willing to pass parcel taxes to fund their schools. In 2016, taxes faced unprecedented opposition from local activists; taxes in Kentfield and Mill Valley were defeated or passed by previously unheard-of narrow margins, respectively. What changed? This case study uses district financial and demographic data as well as interviews and focus groups with advocates and education leaders to answer this question. It was clear that:
  • The current financial situation is not sustainable.
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Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD), California’s thirteenth largest school district, faces a looming deficit and must make significant budget adjustments to avoid state intervention. This case study explores how the district reached this point, how its finances compare with other districts in Sacramento County, and what the implications are for students, particularly those with the greatest needs.
The Impact of Unmotivated Questionnaire Respondents 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 policymaking, respondents’ (lack of) motivation to provide quality responses may threaten the wisdom of using surveys for data-based decision-making. To better understand student satisficing (sub-optimal responding on surveys) and its impact on data quality, we examined the pervasiveness and impact of this practice on a large-scale social-emotional learning survey administered to 409,721 students in grades 2-12.
Evidence from California’s CORE School Districts
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While the importance of social-emotional learning for student success is well established, educators and researchers have less knowledge and agreement about which social-emotional skills are most important for students and how these skills distribute across student subgroups.
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We illustrate the application of mixture IRT models to evaluate the possibility of respondent confusion due to the negative wording of certain items on a social-emotional learning (SEL) assessment. Using actual student self-report ratings on four social-emotional learning scales collected from students in grades 3-12 from CORE districts in the state of California, we also evaluate the consequences of the potential confusion in biasing student- and school-level scores as well as correlational relationships between SEL and student-level variables.
Consistent Gender Differences in Students’ Self-Efficacy
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Academic self-efficacy is a student’s belief in their ability to perform within a school environment. Prior research shows that students experience a drop in academic self-efficacy during middle school that is particularly steep for female students and results in lower self-efficacy for girls than boys throughout middle and high school. In this brief, we probe whether this pattern is consistent across student groups defined by demographics, achievement level, and school of attendance.
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This brief applies value-added models to student surveys in the CORE Districts to explore whether social-emotional learning (SEL) surveys can be used to measure effective classroom-level supports for SEL. The authors find that classrooms differ in their effect on students’ growth in self-reported SEL—even after accounting for school-level effects. Results suggest that classroom-level effects within schools may be larger than school-level effects.
The Case of Garden Grove Unified School District
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This case study of the culture of improvement in the Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD) is part of a broader set of reports on findings from the CORE-PACE Research Partnership’s developmental evaluation in 2018-19. The research in 2018-19 focused on elevating lessons about how educators learn continuous improvement and the organizational conditions that support continuous improvement work in schools and districts. This report is part of a set of three case studies.
The Case of Long Beach Unified School District
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Summary
This case study in the Long Beach Unified School District is part of a broader set of reports on findings from the CORE-PACE Research Partnership’s developmental evaluation in 2018-19. The research in 2018-19 focused on elevating lessons about how educators learn continuous improvement and the organizational conditions that support continuous improvement work in schools and districts.
The Case of Ayer Elementary
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In the past few years, California’s education policies have focused on continuous improvement as a general approach to improving student outcomes. While approaches for doing continuous improvement are sometimes well-specified (e.g., in specific methodologies such as improvement science, Baldridge, Deliverology, etc.), much less is known about the organizational conditions that enable continuous improvement to flourish.
Lessons from the CORE Districts
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The education sector is embracing the hope that continuous improvement will lead to more beneficial student outcomes than standards-based reform and other approaches to policies and practice in prior decades. This report examines attempts in California to realize the potential of continuous improvement in some of the state’s largest districts. Policy Analysis for California Education and the CORE Districts, a nonprofit collaborative of eight urban school districts, have been engaged in a research-practice partnership since 2015.
Authors
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California is one of just two states (with Kansas) that does not use a student-level growth model to measure school performance. This brief lays out a number of common beliefs about growth models and provides evidence that these beliefs are inaccurate or unsupported. In so doing, the brief makes a positive case that the state should adopt such a model and replace the current "change" metric in the California School Dashboard.
Evidence from the CORE Districts and the PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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The number of students opting out of standardized tests has grown in recent years. This phenomenon poses a potential threat to our ability to accurately measure student achievement in schools and districts. This brief documents the extent to which opting out is observed in the CORE districts and models how higher opt-out levels could affect various accountability measures.

Evidence from California’s CORE Districts
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Existing research on self-management skills shows that measures of self- management predict student success. However, these conclusions are based on small samples or narrowly defined self-management measures. Using a rich longitudinal dataset of 221,840 fourth through seventh grade students, this paper describes self-management gaps across student groups, and confirms, at a large scale, the predictive power of self-management for achievement gains, even with unusually rich controls for students’ background, previous achievement, and measures of other social-emotional skills.
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In this report we explore the patterns in mathematics course-taking among California public high school seniors. We describe what courses students are enrolled in and how course participation varies by key student characteristics, such as race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and performance level on the state’s 11th grade assessments. We also explore course-taking patterns for students eligible for California’s public four-year colleges—California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC), and for applicants and admitted students at the CSU and UC.
A Research Summary and Implications for Practice
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Given the importance of a college degree for both individual and societal economic prosperity, policymakers and educators are focused on strengthening the path to college beyond college entry. In this report, we synthesize the existing literature on four factors key to educational attainment—aspirations and beliefs, academic preparation, knowledge and information, and fortitude and resilience—and the implications of each.
  • Aspirations and beliefs—the belief that college is possible and integral to educational success.
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Student absenteeism has recently entered the national spotlight with its emphasis in the Every Student Succeeds Act, and here in California with its inclusion in the School Dashboard. Yet many questions remain about who chronically absent students are and how they are concentrated within schools.

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Acknowledging the importance of students simply being in school, California has made student attendance part of its accountability system. This brief covers a session in which it was pointed out that using chronic absenteeism as an accountability measure is new and its underlying causes are not well understood. Even as many schools face the expectation that they take action to address high rates of absenteeism, myths about school attendance persist.
Evidence from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Voter Poll
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Governor Gavin Newsom campaigned on a “cradle to career” education strategy that identified childcare and early education as key priorities. The Governor’s 2019 Budget Proposal follows through with the inclusion of several initiatives aimed at increasing support for children five and younger.

Perspectives from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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California voters ranked college affordability as the second most important education policy issue in the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier poll, a concern reflected in Governor Gavin Newsom’s first budget proposal and in a number of bills currently progressing through the state legislature. Though desire for making college affordable is high among the average voter, California’s geographic and socio-economic diversity demand that lawmakers consider local contexts when designing and implementing new reforms.