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Under emerging policy structures in California, the responsibility for school improvement is increasingly placed upon local school districts, with County Offices of Education (COEs) playing a critical support role. In this system, districts are responsible for school improvement, with counties in charge of ensuring quality across districts and providing feedback and support where necessary. Underlying this major policy shift is the idea that local leaders are in the best position to drive real educational improvement and ensure quality across multiple schools and contexts.
Learning from the CORE Data Collaborative
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Experts agree that effective data use is critical for continuous improvement. However, there is a lack of understanding statewide about how data use for continuous improvement, with its adaptive and iterative nature, differs from data use for other purposes. In this paper, the authors discuss what data are most useful to inform continuous improvement at all levels of the system and provide a case study of how the CORE data collaborative uses a multiple-measures approach to support decision-making.
Promising Practices From the Field
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Collaboration between K–12 public school districts and higher education, as well as between education institutions, workforce groups, and community organizations, has the potential to improve college and labor market outcomes for individual students and for local communities. However, improvement efforts demand the use of longitudinal data to define the problem, set goals, and monitor progress. California has been behind in building such a longitudinal data system—linked across pre-K through postsecondary sectors—to track individuals’ education and labor market outcomes.
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Adopted in 2013, the LCFF provides all districts with base funding plus supplemental and concentration grants for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth. The law eliminated most categorical programs, giving local school systems resource allocation authority and requiring Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) be developed with input from parents, community members, students, and educators. The policy intends to promote more equitable and coherent resource allocation decisions and to lead to improved and more equitable student outcomes.
A Pragmatic Approach to Validity and Reliability
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As educational practitioners and policymakers expand the range of student outcomes they assess, student perception surveys—particularly those targeting social-emotional learning—have grown in popularity. Despite excitement around the potential for measuring a wider array of important student outcomes, concerns about the validity of the inferences that might be drawn from student self-reports persist. One of the most ambitious attempts to incorporate student perception surveys into a larger assessment framework has occurred through CORE—a consortium of school districts in California.
Evidence from the CORE Districts
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Mounting evidence demonstrates that social-emotional skills are important for students’ academic and life success, yet we have limited evidence on how these skills develop over time and how this development varies across student subgroups. In this study, we use the first large-scale panel survey of social-emotional learning (SEL) to describe how four SEL constructs—growth-mindset, self-efficacy, self-management, and social awareness—develop from Grade 4 to Grade 12, and how these trends vary by gender, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity.
Measuring SEL May 2018
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With an increased appreciation of students’ social-emotional skills among researchers and policy makers, many states and school districts are moving toward a systematic process to measure Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). In this study, we examine the measurement properties of California's CORE Districts’ SEL survey administered to over 400,000 students in grades 3 to 12 during the 2015-16 school year.
SEL School Effects May 2018
Findings from the First Large-Scale Panel Survey of Students
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Measures of school-level growth in student outcomes are common tools used to assess the impacts of schools. The vast majority of these measures are based on standardized tests, even though emerging evidence demonstrates the importance of social-emotional skills (SEL). This paper uses the first large-scale panel surveys of students on SEL to produce and evaluate school-level value-added measures by grade for growth mindset, self-efficacy, self-management, and social awareness. We find substantive differences across schools in SEL growth, of magnitudes similar to those for academic achievement.
Practices and Supports Employed in CORE Districts and Schools
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Social-emotional learning refers to the beliefs, attitudes, personality traits, and behaviors that students need to succeed in school and life. Our study looks closely at ten “outlier schools” in California’s CORE districts whose students report strong social-emotional learning outcomes compared to other, similar middle schools.
How Do Different High School Assessments Measure Up?
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Note: See March 2019 report for updates data and analysis from this March 2018 version.   In 2014, the state of California implemented the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) in order to align state assessment and accountability policies with the newly adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS). At the heart of the new performance and accountability system is the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was signed into law in 2013, and represents the most significant change in California education finance and governance in 40 years. It moves additional funds to districts with students in poverty, English language learners, and foster youth. The LCFF sends supplemental funds to districts based on unduplicated counts of these target student groups and concentration funds to districts with high proportions (over 55%) of these same students.
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High quality instruction delivered by effective teachers is the key to student success. Hiring, developing and retaining good teachers are therefore the most important tasks of our public schools. The tasks of teacher recruitment and retention have traditionally been delegated to the human resource department within school districts, but leaving these critical responsibilities to a single office is no longer sufficient. The ability to find, support, and keep good teachers is a community challenge, which demands innovative solutions collaboratively developed by diverse stakeholders.
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Summer learning loss contributes significantly to the achievement gap between low income students and their more affluent peers. That makes high quality summer learning programs a smart investment for school districts concerned about success for all students. Such investments have become easier thanks to the flexibility built into the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The most promising programs are not traditional summer school. Instead, they look and feel like summer camp while incorporating learning goals aligned with district priorities.
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This paper examines the relationship between policy formation in the United States and educational policy researchers. The experience of one independent 'think tank', namely, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), located within universities, illustrates how research might inform policy and how it might not be victim to the problems, well rehearsed in the literature, of poor dissemination.
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Subway riders in London are constantly warned to “mind the gap,” the dangerous empty space between the platform and the train. Unwary riders who fail to heed this advice may suffer a variety of unpleasant consequences, ranging from scuffed shoes to broken ankles. In this essay, I warn readers to mind a different and vastly wider gap: the one between researchers and policy makers. Researchers often bemoan the fact that policy makers fail to take research findings into sufficient account when making policy choices (Weiss, 1977).
Authors
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Despite California’s great wealth, child poverty places a drag on the state’s educational performance. Disadvantaged children—including English learners, foster children, and the poor—do not receive the educational attention and services that they require to be successful. Although California’s Local Control Funding Formula recognizes this challenge, schools and districts have struggled to identify effective solutions to educate disadvantaged children.
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Calls for “continuous improvement” in California’s K-12 education system are central to current discussions about school improvement in the state. Yet, definitions of continuous improvement vary, and knowledge of what continuous improvement looks like in practice is limited. To advance the conversation, this brief helps to define continuous improvement both in theory and in practice.
Early lessons from the CORE districts
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In California, recent policy shifts have created a high degree of local control with the expectation that school districts will think differently about school and district improvement. However, many districts lack the individual expertise and organizational capacity to support these changes at scale.
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The disparity in educational outcomes between student populations is one of the most serious challenges facing our public education system. Gaps in test scores, graduation rates, and college readiness pose  a fundamental problem that school officials must solve. Education leaders cannot address these inequities by looking at the school day alone. They also need to consider the significant amount of time and the varied experiences young people have outside of school.
A Multidistrict Analysis of Statewide Mandated Democratic Engagement
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This article seeks to deepen our understanding of the nature and quality of democratic participation in educational reform by examining the first-year implementation of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) mandating civic engagement in district decision-making. Drawing on democratic theory, empirical literature, and data from 10 districts, we find that even when district leaders committed to involving stakeholders in decision-making, achieving this vision was often constrained by power imbalances, deeply engrained institutional habits, and limited capacity.
Over the Hill and Out of Sight
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The typical image of California is one of coastal cities and urban centers. But this picture leaves out much of the state and many of its residents. For large numbers of policymakers, foundations, and education leaders, these parts of our large and diverse state are “invisible.” Over the past two decades, however, these communities have emerged as some of the fastest growing and neediest parts of our state. Indeed, an increasingly significant percentage of California students live and attend school outside of large urban or suburban regions.

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The implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula presents local education leaders with the power and flexibility to use resources in new and different ways. Taking full advantage of this opportunity requires leaders to adopt budgeting practices that highlight the tradeoffs among system goals and facilitate the reallocation of scarce resources to support their top priorities. In this brief Mark Murphy reviews the experiences of three California school districts with budget tools that increase their ability to meet their students’ needs.

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California’s education system is highly fragmented. K-12 schools, community colleges, and the two university systems (CSU and UC) operate under entirely separate governance structures, and rely on distinct sources of funding. As a result these different "segments" of the education system generally operate independently of one another, developing policies and practices to serve their own students with little or no effort to consult with other segments. In fact, however, addressing many of the educational issues that face our state successfully will require action by more than one segment.
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In August 2010, the California State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Three years later, the president of the State Board, Dr. Michael Kirst, noted that CCSS “changes almost everything,” including what teachers teach, how they teach, and what students are expected to learn (Kirst, 2013). Echoing his sentiments, Dr.
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California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) requires districts to report multiple measures of student performance that reflect success in the goal of preparing students for college, career, and citizenship. As they engage in the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) process, they are expected to use state and local indicator data from California’s School Dashboard to monitor student progress.