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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. The brief includes examples of local efforts to improve student attendance and discusses steps needed to build the capacity of schools and...
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. Despite strong evidence that high-quality early education programs can have a powerful impact on children’s future success in school, college, and the workforce, California voters rank new investments in prenatal and early childhood services below other educational priorities, including improving the...

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. We discuss variation in concern over college costs at the county level and by racial/ethnic and...

Insights from Outlier Schools
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There is a growing consensus in education that schools can and should attend to students’ social-emotional development. Emerging research and popular texts indicate that students’ mindsets, beliefs, dispositions, emotions, and behaviors can advance outcomes, such as college readiness, career success, mental health, and relationships. Despite this growing awareness, many districts and schools are still struggling to implement strategies that develop students’ social-emotional skills. The purpose of this paper is to fill this gap by examining the social-emotional learning (SEL) practices in ten...
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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. He, along with the legislature and other policymakers, are calling for more...
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. Intersegmental collaborations are emerging as a key lever for change, and the sustainability of these intersegmental efforts both depend on and offer opportunities to bridge research, policy, and practice in ways...
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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. California’s lack of a coherent education database serves as a substantial barrier to fulfilling the state’s continuous improvement policy goal and ensuring all students have access to robust learning opportunities to enable them to be successful in school and...
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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. We ask: (1) How does school performance on CORE’s school quality improvement measures vary across schools and over time?; and (2) How does the setting of targets on CORE’s non-academic indicators at various levels impact the number and types of schools...
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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. While not a true national sample, the CORE benchmarking sample...
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. The analysis shows that larger charter enrollment shares are associated with lower levels of per-pupil spending and reduced fiscal health in traditional public...
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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. The current paper...

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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. In reality, employee health benefit costs pose two distinct challenges for districts. First, the cost of providing benefits to each employee has increased substantially over time. Because districts require employees to pay only a relatively small portion of these annual...

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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. Finally...

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. Aligned with Common Core State Standards for college readiness, student performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessment may also predict students’ success in college in a manner similar to other commonly used assessments for predicting college...
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. Second, I use data from the 2019 PACE/USC Rossier poll to characterize use of and support for...

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. As the Budget moves from proposal to reality, it is critical that the evidence from GDTFII continues to inform the policy process.

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. There are also a host of new and looming issues in K-12 and higher education. As California’s leaders confront these and other issues, where do California voters, including parents, stand on education and education policy? The newest edition of the USC Rossier/PACE Poll shares voter perspectives on a wide range of education issues.
Describing Chronically Absent Students, the Schools They Attend, and Implications for Accountability
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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. In chapter 1 (of the edited book, Absent from School), the author uses data from the CORE districts—which serve nearly one million students in over 1,000 schools in California–to better understand differences across students and schools, comparing these measures to a broader set of school performance...

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This article examines how district administrators’ conceptions of equity relate to the implementation of finance reform. The authors use sensemaking theory and four views of equity—libertarian, liberal, democratic liberal, and transformative—to guide a case study of two districts, finding evidence of two conceptions of equity: (1) greater resources for students with greater needs, and (2) equal distribution of resources for all students. One district demonstrated an organization-wide belief in the first conception, whereas the other conveyed individual-level understandings of both conceptions...
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. This policy...
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. Also, about 1 in 4 districts had African American as well as American Indian or Alaska Native student populations who were classified in the lowest...
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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.
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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.