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Continuous improvement is a holistic and research-based approach to education grounded in the belief that every system is designed to achieve the results it gets; therefore, change must be systemwide, not piecemeal. California is a national leader in the continuous improvement movement that is spreading throughout local school districts as well as state and county offices of education. At its annual conference in February 2019, PACE convened a panel of California educators working on the cutting edge of continuous improvement. In this brief, they share their stories and lessons learned.
What It Takes
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Access to affordable preschool programs is a crucial issue for improving kindergarten readiness for 3- to 5-year-olds, but research shows that the quality of teaching and learning in those programs is just as essential. Across the country, states are boosting preschool policy standards and strengthening educational requirements for preschool teachers. California has not been at the forefront of this effort. But newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom is making preschool quality a signature issue of his administration.
CIB Koppich May 2019
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Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal for 2019–2020 includes $10 million to develop a statewide longitudinal data system—including early education, K–12, and higher education institutions as well as health and human services agencies—to better track student outcomes and improve alignment of the education system to workforce needs.
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Although there is a robust body of literature studying targets for academic indicators within school quality systems few studies explore target setting for non-academic indicators. Focusing on elementary schools within the CORE districts, we investigate how moving performance targets for non-academic indicators affects school quality ratings.
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The CORE districts have been measuring SEL via self-report student surveys since 2015. Any district, state, or school looking to use these surveys can now build from what we have learned in the CORE districts. In this paper we provide benchmarking data, including means and standard deviations by construct, grade level and subgroup, and examples of how to use these data in practice. The data come from nearly half a million students across the 8 CORE districts, in grades 4 through 12, who took the survey in the 2015-16 school year.
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School value-added models are increasingly used to measure schools’ contributions to student success. At the same time, policymakers and researchers agree that schools should support students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) as well as academic development. Yet, the evidence regarding whether schools can influence SEL and whether statistical growth models can appropriately measure this influence is limited. Recent work shows meaningful differences across schools in changes in SEL scores by grade, but whether these differences represent the effects of schools is still unclear.

Evidence from California
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Charter schools enroll a growing share of public school students, leading to concerns about the financial implications of charter schools for traditional public schools. Using detailed expenditure data for school districts in California, this paper exploits variation in charter school enrollment across time and between districts to evaluate how district spending and overall financial health change as nearby charter sectors expand.
Opportunities for Research, Policy, and Practice
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Due to fragmented and misaligned segments of public education, many students lack access to educational opportunities that will ensure their success in college and career. This problem is one that may only be solved through better alignment and coordination between high school and college, between systems of higher education, and between education and economic development sectors.
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Researchers in the Getting Down to Facts II project showed that while the financial picture has improved in recent years for California’s school districts, several important challenges remain. This policy brief explores one of these challenges in greater detail: the costs of health and welfare benefits for district employees.

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Community engagement remains one of the most challenging expectations of California’s Local Control  Funding Formula, so much so that state leaders have funded an initiative to support regional networks focused on engagement. This brief shares insights from a session where a lead administrator from the San Bernardino County Office provided an update on that initiative. Other speakers shared their on-the-ground experiences working with educators, parents, and students to create the relationships needed for community stakeholder engagement to be consistent, meaningful, and productive.
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In this brief, we update previous research on the implementation of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) with the results from a 2019 poll of California voters. Results show that while public awareness of the LCFF has increased, more than half of voters remain unfamiliar with this state finance and accountability policy. However, voter support for the policy remains high, though it has decreased since last year. Participation in LCFF engagement has increased, but remains low, despite a majority of voters reporting desire to be involved in decisions about local education.

How Do Different High School Assessments Measure Up?
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The Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC), implemented in California in 2014–15 as part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, is designed to evaluate students’ levels of college and career readiness. Student scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment are currently used for both accountability and school improvement purposes.
Evidence from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Voter Poll
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Late in 2018, the California Department of Education rolled out an updated version of the California School Dashboard. This revision altered the look and feel of the Dashboard and added new indicators based on newly available data. This brief updates a 2018 analysis of the Dashboard. First, I examine whether the state’s revisions are in line with the suggestions made in the 2018 report. I find that the state has made some improvements to the system, but that there is room for continued improvement.

Evidence to Inform Policy
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Governor Newsom’s first Budget Proposal increases funding for education in California. There are areas of substantive overlap in the Budget Proposal and research findings from the Getting Down to Facts II (GDTFII) research project, released in September 2018, which built an evidence base on the current status of California education and implications for paths forward.

Views from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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With a new Governor, State Superintendent, and Legislators in Sacramento and a diminished federal role in education, there is an opportunity for California’s leaders to take stock of recent educational reforms and make necessary improvements. This report presents findings from a state-representative poll of California registered voters on an array of education policy issues. Based on our analysis, we have identified nine major findings:

What New Dashboard Data Reveals About School Performance
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In this policy brief, we describe the chronic absence performance levels of California’s districts, schools, and student groups using newly released data from California’s School Dashboard. We also examine the role that chronic absence plays in determining differentiated assistance. For schools with very high chronic absence rates (above 20 percent), nearly two thirds reported increases while about a third reported declines from the previous year.
Lessons for Policy and Practice
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Addressing student absenteeism continues to permeate education policy and practice. California and a majority of other states have incorporated “chronic absenteeism” as an accountability metric under the Every Student Succeeds Act. It is therefore a crucial time to take stock of what we know on the research, policy, and practice to better understand the measurement of student absenteeism and how to reduce it. To further this goal and spark a broader conversation about student attendance as a valuable policy lever, we wrote the first book centered on the issue of school absenteeism.
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California’s shift towards continuous improvement in education makes understanding how districts and schools can learn to improve a more pressing question than ever. The CORE Improvement Community (CIC), a network of California school districts engaged in learning about improvement together, is an important testing ground to learn about what this work entails.  This report continues drawing lessons from the CIC’s second year as its districts work together towards a common aim: to improve the mathematics achievement of African American and Latinx students in Grades 4–8.
Report Koppich Jan 2019
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In fall 2018, the Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative (LCFFRC) conducted surveys of stratified random samples of California superintendents and principals. Superintendent results were published in June 2018 in Superintendents Speak: Implementing the Local Control Funding Formula. This report, Principals’ Perceptions: Implementing the Local Control Funding Formula, is the companion account of principal survey results.

SPED
The Challenges and Solutions from Multiple Perspectives
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Despite recent California policy changes aimed at increasing equity and improving student outcomes, challenges in serving students with disabilities persist for many school districts. This PACE policy brief identifies needed additional policy action including increased funding, modified governance and accountability structures, and expanded teacher preparation and training.
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This report examines high school graduation rates in California. It reviews the various approaches to calculating high school graduation rates, focusing on the challenges and limitations of the most widely used rate, the Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR).
Promising Practices
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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) ushered in a new era for California education policy. Enacted in 2013, the LCFF shifted control of most education dollars from the state to local school districts, allowing them to determine how to allocate their resources to best meet the needs of the students in their community. The LCFF also made it a matter of state policy to shine a spotlight on educational inequities and try to give districts the wherewithal to level the playing field for students who too often are left behind.
Report Kurlaender Dec 2018
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For as much as we know about the economic benefits of a college degree, California policymakers and educators have little information about the college destinations of high school graduates. To fill this information gap, we assembled a unique data set of three recent cohorts of public high school students matched with college enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse.
Challenges and Possibilities
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In recent years, California has invested in improving early childhood education programs. Research shows the importance of high-quality early childhood education, but the disconnect from K–12 education threatens its long-term benefits. If the early grades do not build on the gains made in preschool, they likely will be lost. This brief, based on a longer technical report , describes the challenges facing pre-K–3 alignment and offers promising practices and policy recommendations.
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Rural school districts face unique challenges in procuring funds, recruiting staff, and obtaining high-quality technical assistance. This environment creates problems in identifying high-quality instructional materials and implementing best practices. A collaborative learning network can address these challenges by providing access to professional development, collaborative time with peer districts, and economies of scale.