The California Collaborative on District Reform periodically releases letters, briefs, reports, and policy statements to document the work of California districts and to inform discussion around relevant policy issues. Please visit the following links to see California Collaborative research briefs or policy statements:
In the nearly two years since the SARS-CoV-2 virus burst on the American scene, more than 850,000 Americans have died and elections have literally been won or lost on public officials' positions and actions in response to COVID-19. Nowhere have the tensions and leadership demands been more visible than in the school systems that serve elementary and secondary school children, their parents, and communities. Educational Leadership in Crisis: Reflections From a Pandemic, explores how some California district leaders have responded to the initial and continuing COVID-19 crisis, using the reflections of superintendents in the California Collaborative on District Reform to reveal patterns, themes, and lessons. The brief also considers the impact that the pandemic and school closures have had on the leaders themselves and the implications of that impact for the future. The authors conclude by applying the principles of high reliability organizations to suggest how local districts and their leaders might capitalize on the work to date, not only to navigate the continuing challenges of the current pandemic and recovery but also to prepare for the inevitable crises of the future.
For other resources from the California Collaborative related to the COVID-19 pandemic, please see https://cacollaborative.org/topics/covid-19.
In the nearly 2 years since the SARS-CoV-2 virus burst on the American scene, more than 850,000 Americans have died, and elections have literally been won or lost on public officials’ positions and actions in response to COVID-19. Nowhere have the tensions and leadership demands been more visible than in the school systems that serve elementary and secondary school children, their parents, and communities. Educational Leadership in Crisis: Reflections From a Pandemic, explores how some California district leaders have responded to the initial and continuing COVID-19 crisis, using the reflections of superintendents in the California Collaborative on District Reform to reveal patterns, themes, and lessons. The brief also considers the impact that the pandemic and school closures have had on the leaders themselves and the implications of that impact for the future. The authors conclude by applying the principles of high reliability organizations to suggest how local districts and their leaders might capitalize on the work to date, not only to navigate the continuing challenges of the current pandemic and recovery but also to prepare for the inevitable crises of the future.
For other resources from the California Collaborative related to the COVID-19 pandemic, please see https://cacollaborative.org/topics/covid-19
A year after school closures and transitions to remote instruction, early evidence suggests that the negative effects of the pandemic on student learning have been greatest among our most vulnerable student populations. Although districts were quick to provide meals and devices that addressed students’ basic needs, disparities in opportunities to learn have persisted, and in many cases widened. To understand how districts have responded to educational inequities during the pandemic, the California Collaborative on District Reform’s latest brief, Reflecting Back and Looking Forward: Educational Equity in the Era of COVID-19, describes three responses to educational challenges: providing access to safe and supportive learning environments, social-emotional supports, and high-quality instruction. These examples help to elevate lessons that may inform other districts as they seek to address disparities now and into the future.
For other resources from the California Collaborative related to the COVID-19 pandemic, please see https://cacollaborative.org/topics/covid-19
A trio of crises—the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting financial instability, and racial injustice—has disrupted learning environments and the relationships, structures, and supports that students depend on to thrive. The consequences are far-reaching, but they have been felt most acutely by our most vulnerable youth. In the face of these challenges, lessons from the science of learning and development illustrate how strategic attention to supporting social, emotional, and cognitive well-being can light a path forward. A new brief from the California Collaborative on District Reform, Ensuring Whole-Child Well-Being as a Foundation for Learning: Relationships, Routines, and Resilience in the Time of COVID-19, explores the ways in which the pandemic has introduced and exacerbated threats to whole-child health and well-being, but also draws attention to human resilience and the supports that can empower students and adults to navigate the obstacles in their way. It draws attention to relationships, routines, and resilience—“The New Three Rs”—as vehicles for supporting well-being and learning, and highlights emerging district practices that can foster resilience among all members of our school communities in this moment and beyond.
This brief shares insights from the California Collaborative on District Reform’s recent meeting on approaches to school re-entry during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more resources related to COVID-19, please visit https://cacollaborative.org/topics/covid-19.
In 2019, career pathways were offered in one-third of U.S. school districts, including more than 500 in California. A new brief from the California Collaborative on District Reform, The Career Pathways Approach: A Way Towards Equity?, examines the equity promise and challenge of pathways. At a time when traditional school experiences have been upended, students may struggle even more than normal to understand the relevance of their schoolwork and to connect it to opportunities after high school. Pathways can offer opportunities to enhance engagement, develop social capital, and build 21st century skills, especially for the most vulnerable students. To help pathways designers and implements fulfill the potential of the pathways approach, this brief offers conditions for equitable implementation and parallel strategies for success.
This brief shares insights from the California Collaborative on District Reform’s meeting in December 2019 on improving outcomes for all students using career pathways. For more information on this topic, please view the resources on the Meeting 40 page of the California Collaborative website.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, and in many cases exacerbated, disparities among students that result from their socioeconomic status, language background, race and ethnicity, and disability classification. Now more than ever, school systems need to understand student needs and respond with targeted supports that address these needs. One model promoted by the California Department of Education and embraced by many districts around the state for serving all students well is a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). Given the varying conditions districts face during this time, and the range of student needs now and when schools reopen, a model of effective MTSS implementation might be particularly relevant and valuable as educators assess where students are and differentiate instruction to meet student needs based on those data. A new brief from the California Collaborative on District Reform, One System for All: A Multi-Tiered System of Supports in Sanger Unified School District, shares insights on one district’s experiences and lessons learned from implementing MTSS to improve learning for all California students.
This brief shares insights from the California Collaborative on District Reform’s meeting in 2018 on improving outcomes for all students by using a coherent and integrated MTSS approach. For more information on this topic, please view the resources on the Meeting 36 page of the California Collaborative website.
School closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically changed the conditions in which students learn and experience schooling. Disparities in students’ access to learning and in their academic outcomes are likely to exacerbate longstanding challenges and inequities. Now more than ever, educators need information that will help them address student needs, support improvement, and address these inequities. This brief draws on the experiences and lessons of local districts who have taken up the charge to improve access, use, and communication of data throughout their systems. The brief also shares insights for using data in the spirit of continuous improvement and in the service of all California students.
The COVID-19 pandemic creates unprecedented conditions for K-12 teaching and learning, and education leaders everywhere are working quickly to make the best policy decisions possible. Knowing that the current context is dramatically different than previous school years and that students’ access to learning from home varies, how should schools grade student performance? This brief from the California Collaborative on District Reform, Grading Policy in the Time of COVID-19: Considerations and Implications for Equity, explores some of the policy options California districts and other states have pursued, as well as considerations and tradeoffs related to equity. The pandemic serves as a reminder that achieving equity for all students has always been a challenge; differential access to learning threatens to exacerbate existing disparities among students, schools, and districts. But it also raises the question: What can we do to shift this current circumstance to transform a broken, inequitable system to one that provides a high quality education for all?
California’s transition to a new governor, superintendent of public instruction, legislators, and members of the state board of education is an opportunity to reflect on the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Namely, has the school finance system achieved its original goals of promoting local control, equity, and greater coherence in school districts? Some policy discussions about improving LCFF—including those on the campaign trail—have centered on increasing transparency requirements to understand how districts are achieving these goals, but those conversations too often treat transparency as an end in itself. A new brief from the California Collaborative on District Reform shines a spotlight on San José Unified School District (SJUSD), where implementing the new state policy helped the district maintain high levels of coherence, honor the priorities of their community, and promote equitable resource allocation. This brief asks new state leaders working to refine LCFF to consider examples like SJUSD, where key priorities of the policy–and not compliance–are the guiding principles behind all the district’s actions.
For more information about improvement efforts in SJUSD, please see resources from Meeting 20 and Meeting 30, as well as the Collaborative’s report on the partnership between the district and teachers union in San Jose.
Governor Newsom’s January budget proposal outlines plans for a single web-based application that can merge various district reporting tools to increase efficiency and public understanding. Drawing on the experiences of the LCFF Test Kitchen, a new brief offers four recommendations for making the most of this proposal: (1) Articulate the goals and desired outcomes of a single web-based reporting platform to align reporting structures. (2) Engage end users throughout the development process. (3) Foster competition to generate an innovative, single web-based reporting platform design. (4) Create structures and supports to build trust between school districts and their communities. Through a process that values end users and fosters innovation, we can both support and improve upon the Governor’s proposal, thereby helping to create the conditions for continued progress in our schools and communities. For more information about the LCFF Test Kitchen, please visit https://lcfftestkitchen.org/.
In the face of stagnant achievement and persistent achievement gaps in mathematics, school districts have enacted a variety of changes to varying levels of success. On the heels of an Algebra for All model that failed to generate desired outcomes of students, San Francisco Unified School District adopted a policy in 2014 that dramatically changed its sequence of mathematics courses. The district completely de-tracked its middle school classes, enrolling all students in the same heterogeneously grouped courses for Grades 6, 7, and 8. San Francisco’s policy represents a significant departure from traditional approaches to organizing mathematics courses, and early outcomes appear to validate this approach. This brief describes the rationale behind the district’s decision, the nature of the new policy, and the promising results the district has experienced so far.
This brief shares information from the California Collaborative’s December 2018 meeting on understanding and addressing challenges in mathematics instruction and student learning. For more information on this topic, please view the resources on the Meeting 37 page of the California Collaborative website.
The LCFF Test Kitchen has enabled three school districts to make progress by leveraging the power of user-centered design. This is the first of two briefs coming out of the LCFF Test Kitchen Work and describes the districts' progress in Year 1 of the Test Kitchen and the solutions it has generated. The second of the two briefs can be found here.
This is the second of two briefs coming out of the LCFF Test Kitchen. This brief addresses a broader question underlying the LCFF Test Kitchen: to what extent can user-centered design help us address policy challenges? It identifies lessons learned over the Test Kitchen’s first year and implications for a different approach to education policy. The first brief can be found here.
In the 2017-18 school year, the California State Board of Education rolled out a new statewide system of support for local education agencies, with the goal of moving away from punitive accountability policies toward working alongside schools and districts to respond directly to local needs and contexts. Distilling lessons from prior research, practice, and continuous improvement endeavors, this brief outlines key principles of effective support and presents state policymakers, county offices, districts, and support providers with suggestions on how to engage in this work productively to ensure that the sytem successfully serves the students of California.
This brief was developed in response to the California Collaborative on District Reform's December 2017 meeting on the development of the new system of support. For more information on this topic, please view the resources on the Meeting 34 page of the California Collaborative website.
Fostering Innovation: How User-Centered Design Can Help Us Get the Local Control Funding Formula Right
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) has introduced positive and much-needed change to California’s approach to K-12 education funding by allocating resources according to student need and freeing districts to make decisions that address local priorities. For all of LCFF’s advantages, however, the Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) in which districts articulate their programmatic and spending decisions have received criticism for being archaic, cumbersome, difficult to complete, opaque, and incoherent. This brief, written in partnership with Pivot Learning, is the fifth in a series from the California Collaborative exploring key issues of LCFF implementation, and it describes an alternative approach to solving policy problems. The brief shares four prototypes that emerged from a November 2016 design sprint as new approaches to achieving LCFF goals. By embracing user-centered design, California’s education leaders have an opportunity to overcome flaws in the LCAP, fulfill the potential of LCFF, and preserve the funding system through the upcoming statewide elections and into the future.
For more information about LCFF, please view the resources on the Meeting 29 and LCFF pages of the California Collaborative website.
As they continue to implement the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), California educators find themselves struggling to communicate district plans to parents, teachers, and other members of the school community. To help inform the community about districts’ plans and results, many districts voluntarily produced supplementary materials to accompany their 2015 Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). Following suit, the State Board of Education is considering “executive summaries” as one solution to effectively inform the public. But what does a good executive summary or other outreach approach look like? This brief, the fourth in a series from the California Collaborative exploring key issues of LCFF implementation, identifies some guidelines for district leaders to make their plans more accessible.
The Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), a state-required document in which districts describe their goals, their strategies to achieve these goals, and the resources allocated to support these strategies, is a central component of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Having completed two rounds LCAP submissions, district leaders and others around the state have learned much about what the process entails, where it has created the conditions for improved practices and outcomes, and where obstacles remain. This brief, the third in a series from the California Collaborative exploring key issues of LCFF implementation, outlines the key challenges undercutting the LCAP’s effectiveness and offers short term and long term solutions to these identified challenges.
Learning from the Past: Drawing on California’s CLAS Experience to Inform Assessment of the Common Core
As California approaches a new system of academic standards, instruction, and assessment, it enters familiar territory. The use of multiple modes of assessment, tight alignment between assessments and expectations for student learning, and a focus on assessment for formative (as well as summative) purposes—all with an emphasis on students’ understanding and ability to apply their learning—mirror the state’s priorities as it transitioned to the California Learning Assessment System (CLAS) in the early 1990s. These policy and practice briefs examine the CLAS experience to identify lessons for districts as they implement the Common Core today. Through these lessons, districts across the state might build on promising practices from two decades ago while avoiding some of the pitfalls that undermined the CLAS effort. These briefs were an outcome of the California Collaborative meeting Digging Into the Standards: Assessment and the Common Core.
California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) has introduced changes that alter the conditions under which educators, administrators, and community leaders approach their roles in the K-12 education system. Consequently, leaders at all levels may need to build the capacity—both the knowledge and skills and the resources—that they need to fulfill the potential of the new funding formula. This brief, the second in a series from the California Collaborative exploring LCFF implementation issues, highlights some of those capacity needs. Recognizing and addressing the demands for improved capacity at all levels of the system will be essential for achieving success with the new funding system.
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) represents a fundamental transformation of the way California allocates state funds to school districts and the ways the state expects districts to make decisions about (and report on) the use of these funds. This brief identifies some early lessons about how best to use the new system to meet student needs, especially the traditionally underserved. It highlights key areas that merit attention from California education stakeholders, as well as issues of communication around priorities and expectations that can help support the successful enactment of the new funding policy.
As district leaders search for the best ways to improve student learning with the Common Core State Standards, some early implementers are giving us an opportunity to learn from their experience. This brief describes Sacramento City Unified School District’s approach to developing units of study that guide teachers’ classroom practice. The units provide a valuable tool for designing curriculum and instructional materials, but just as importantly, they have driven teacher capacity building and engagement teachers in the implementation of the new standards. The brief examines the units of study strategy as it has unfolded in Sacramento, identifies some of the key points of evolution since the district began its work three years ago, and discusses some of the challenges and tensions facing districts that might employ a similar approach.
This brief stems from the symposium Collaborating for Success: Implementing the Common Core State Standards in California co-hosted by the California Collaborative in August 2012. It provides an overview of the promises and challenges of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as discussed at the symposium by several national experts. In particular, California Collaborative member, Kenji Hakuta, emphasized the importance of linking English language development with content. The report presents themes which emerged from conversations among district leaders about their strategies for and experiences with implementing the CCSS. Themes include strategies for communicating the CCSS vision to various audiences, aligning resources, tools, policies, and practices to support CCSS implementation, and building partnerships with community organizations such as afterschool providers. The report concludes with a discussion of next steps in California’s transition to the CCSS including the need to ensure equity and access for all students as well as navigating the statess upcoming transition to a new accountability system.
Recent attention to school turnaround often situates the causes for (and solutions to) persistent low performance at the school level. This policy and practice brief draws on the experience of eight California school districts to suggest a more systemic approach to school improvement. By looking at common approaches across all eight districts and by sharing three districts stories more in-depth, the brief demonstrates the ways that districts can leverage their capacity and resources to more effectively achieve growth in struggling schools. Based on this work, the brief concludes with a set of considerations for how the federal government can promote a more systemic and customized approach to intervention in our lowest-performing schools through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
This policy and practice brief builds on dialogue that began in response to the California State Board of Education’s July 2008 motion to make Algebra 1 the test of record for California’s eighth grade students. While this decision has since been overturned, districts need to continue to think of ways to help all students meet high standards in mathematics, recognizing the gateway that algebra provides to higher mathematics and college access. To this end, the brief discusses ways in which districts can approach the creation of strong K-12 mathematics curriculum, appropriate placement of students in mathematics courses, enhancement of instructional capacity, and provision of supports for struggling students given the current fiscal and political context in California. The brief concludes with a set of policy recommendations.
In October 2007, EdSource hosted a policy convening in response to findings from the Getting Down to Facts research project. These four briefs were prepared by a working group of district Collaborative members to inform the dialogue of this “Getting from Facts to Policy” conference. They advocate for new state policy in the areas of (1) governance and finance, (2) standards based funding and accountability systems, (3) accessible and informative data, and (4) teacher preparation and development.
It started with a cup of coffee. In the wake of an intense contract negotiation, and against the backdrop of a district bankruptcy, multiple teacher strikes, and a wave of mistrust that veterans of the era still refer to as "rock bottom," the San José superintendent and the San José Teachers Association president decided to chart a different path forward. A new report from the California Collaborative on District Reform, From Combat to Collaboration, explores the way in which the district and union laid the groundwork for a new way of working together, how leaders have continued to foster and deepen the partnership, the day-to-day policies and practices that allow the relationship to flourish, and how collaboration enables the district to better serve its students. The report concludes with a set of lessons that can inform other districts and unions seeking to develop a more productive relationship. For more information about San José Unified, please visit the Meeting 30 page.
Teachers matter. Educators, policymakers, and the general public alike agree that great teachers are vital to a thriving K-12 education system, yet the pathways to assembling a high quality teaching force remain elusive. This case study of Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD), winner of the 2004 Broad Prize for Urban Education, demonstrates what a comprehensive approach to maximizing teacher quality can look like in practice. The report examines the strategies behind the district’s two key levers for improvement: (1) getting the best teachers and (2) building the capacity of the teachers it has. The story of Garden Grove is less about what it does, however, than how the district approaches its work. The report therefore explores the district culture and commitment to continuous improvement that produce effective practices of human capital development and enable these practices to achieve success. For more information about GGUSD, please visit the Meeting 15 page.
Community schools emphasize both the holistic and coordinated nature of improvement efforts that can make a difference for students. The California Community Schools Partnership program is an important and welcome investment from the state, but aspects of the current environment and traditional patterns of policymaking in the state could undercut the potential for achieving and sustaining coherent implementation at the local level. This letter from incoming and outgoing California Collaborative chairs Joel Knudson and Jennifer O’Day offers three considerations for finalizing the details of the community schools grants program to increase the likelihood of realizing its admirable goals.
The California Collaborative’s June 2015 meeting in Whittier Union High School District gave district leaders the opportunity to provide feedback on the first official administration of California’s new Smarter Balanced assessments in English language arts and mathematics. Overall, meeting participants expressed support for the new assessment system as a significant advance over previous state tests. At the same time, those present recognized that the state is in the early stages of a learning process and offered several suggestions to improve assessment administration and reporting. Meeting guest Ilene Straus, vice president of the State Board of Education (SBE), encouraged the California Collaborative to compile relevant feedback to share with the SBE and California Department of Education. This letter highlights some of the key points that emerged in the meeting conversation. For more details about the discussion, please view our Meeting Summary.
Eight superintendents on the California Collaborative on District Reform, as well as the chair of the group, wrote a letter urging Joan Buchanan, the chair of the Assembly Education Committee, to pass the the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in the budget this year. They argue that the current accountability system is undermined with over-regulation and cumbersome bureaucracy that impedes districts’ ability to develop coherent educational approaches. Under LCFF, all students would receive equal access to a base level of funding, with special attention paid to how we fund low-income students, English learners, and students in foster care. The letter argues that LCFF will create an education finance system with increased local flexibility and transparency so that district and school staff can focus directly on improving education outcomes and ensure that students drive the allocation of resources.
California Collaborative Urges State to Move Forward with a Thoughtful Weighted Pupil Formula Policy
The California Collaborative on District Reform, led by 10 district leaders from across the state, issued a letter to the Governor urging the state to move forward with a weighted pupil formula (WPF) to improve our state’s ability to educate children to their fullest potential. Arguing that now is the time to make the long-standing collective cry for a dramatic change to California’s state funding system for education a reality, the Collaborative drew on member districts’ direct experience with navigating the allocation of funding to meet student needs to outline four key considerations for enacting a WPF in a way that translates to improved student learning opportunities—including the need for a continued focus on an adequate amount of funding for all districts regardless of the funding formula.
An exploration of eight California districts participating in the California Collaborative on District Reform highlighting the critical district role in supporting school improvement and student learning. The experiences of these districts—Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento City, San Bernardino, San Jose, and Sanger Unified School Districts—reveal two equally central lessons for school turnaround.
The California Collaborative on District Reform met as a group on June 29-30, 2010 to review the Common Core State Standards in depth, examine their relationship to California’s current standards, and discuss what their adoption would mean for student learning in the state. After previous study and this intensive two-day meeting, the group decided collectively to encourage the adoption of the Common Core State Standards through this letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The California State Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt the Common Core State Standards on August 2.
California Collaborative District Leaders Advocate for Flexibility Provisions in Race to the Top Legislation
Seven California superintendents, including those from six California Collaborative districts, wrote this letter to California legislative leaders supporting the reinstitution of provisions for district flexibility in Race to the Top legislation. In exchange for clear eligibility and accountability criteria, districts would receive the same level of flexibility provided under current law to charter schools. Such flexibility can encourage innovation, support system learning, and give much needed fiscal and strategic support to students, teachers, and school districts and their families to support student learning. The letter was ultimately unsuccessful at changing the legislative language for Race to the Top. However, a bill currently under review by the California legislature (SB 1396) may achieve similar flexibility on a smaller scale.
In November 2021, members of the California Collaborative on District Reform convened virtually for the fifth time since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the disruption of in-person learning in districts across the state. Meeting participants convened to discuss the challenges that district leaders, school administrators, and teachers face in ensuring that students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs are being addressed alongside academic needs in truly transformative ways. Grounding their discussions in the experiences of Garden Grove students who joined the group to share their experiences during the pandemic, members and guests explored ways in which a commitment to Transformative Social and Emotional Learning, a multi-tiered system of supports framework, and the principles of community schools can help districts serve the full range of student needs in a coherent way.
Resources from the meeting, including a summary of the group's conversation, are now available on the Meeting 45 page.
In June 2021, members of the California Collaborative on District Reform convened for the fourth time since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the disruption of in-person learning in districts across the state. Although health concerns continue to evolve and shape district decisions, Collaborative members and guests met over two days in June to prepare for a return to in-person learning in the fall and the broader transition from crisis management to long-term recovery. Adopting language that Education Resource Strategies has used in its work with districts, participants incorporated teacher perspectives and student insights, explored strategic financial investments, and examined issues of measurement to consider what districts are building from, what they are doing now, and what they are building toward in their efforts to promote deep and lasting systemic improvement for students. Although the landscape of K-12 education in California has continued to evolve rapidly since the meeting took place, the lessons and insights nevertheless remain relevant for district action this summer, for fall 2021, and for the months and years ahead. Resources from the meeting, including a summary of the group’s conversation, are now available on the California Collaborative’s website at https://cacollaborative.org/meetings/meeting44.
For additional resources from the California Collaborative related to COVID-19, please visit https://cacollaborative.org/topics/covid-19.