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Geography of Child Poverty in California

By Caroline Danielson, Sarah Bohn

One-quarter of young children across the state live in poverty. In inland regions, reducing child poverty requires efforts to improve job opportunities. In many coastal regions, increasing access to affordable housing will help.


Career Technical Education in Health: An Overview of Student Success at California’s Community Colleges

By Shannon McConville, Sarah Bohn, Landon Gibson

Health programs at California’s community colleges attract a large and diverse set of students and are linked to growing job opportunities in a generally well-paying industry for Californians with less than a bachelor’s degree. Many community college students who have earned career tech credentials in health care over the past decade have seen sizeable wage gains. Efforts to increase completion rates and close achievement gaps can expand access to health careers while helping the state meet its workforce needs.

This research was supported with funding from the Sutton Family Fund.


Math Placement in California’s Public Schools

By Niu Gao, Sara Adan

Last year, the California Legislature passed a new law—the California Mathematics Placement Act—to address widespread concern over equity in the math placement process. The law is aimed at improving the measurement of student performance in order to move more students successfully through the high school curriculum. In this context, we surveyed California’s school districts during the 2015–16 school year to examine their placement policies right before the law took effect and to identify district needs for technical assistance while implementing the new law. We found that:

  • Districts need help in determining how to proceed. Because the law leaves many details open to local interpretation, many districts are unsure about how to handle certain key elements. Teacher recommendations are a good example. Our survey indicates that the majority of districts have relied on recommendations as an important factor in determining placement. But the law now restricts their use. Improving the law’s clarity is critical going forward.
  • Despite uncertainties, most districts are implementing the new law. Among our respondents, 86 percent reported having a systematic math placement policy. Sixty percent said they are somewhat or very familiar with the new law. Among these districts, 51 percent said they were already in compliance and 42 percent reported revising their policies for compliance purposes.
  • Across districts, there is a strong need for valid, reliable, and objective performance measures. This need applies both to assessing student performance and to evaluating district policies. Districts with the largest gains in student course outcomes over a 10-year period provide some insight. These districts are more likely than others to emphasize test scores, math GPA, and overall GPA when assessing student placement. They are also more likely to use end-of-year math grades to evaluate district placement policies.
  • Districts face a number of other challenges. Districts’ concerns range from handling parental expectations, to needing evidence-based performance measures, to creating better policy alignment within and across schools. In addition, equity issues and staffing shortages present ongoing challenges for many districts.

We recommend several actions for helping districts comply with the law and improve their math placement process. These include establishing evidence-based measures, refining the approach to teacher recommendations, and identifying effective placement protocols. In the longer term, districts would benefit from using student data to improve equity issues and from increased staffing, especially in rural and high-need districts.


California’s Historic Corrections Reforms

By Magnus Lofstrom, Mia Bird, Brandon Martin

California has dramatically lowered incarceration—by about 55,000 inmates since 2006—with no broad increase in crime. But recidivism rates remain high and corrections spending continues to rise.


College Readiness in California: A Look at Rigorous High School Course-Taking

By Niu Gao

Recognizing the educational and economic benefits of a college degree, education policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels have made college preparation a priority. There are many ways to measure college readiness, but one key component is rigorous high school coursework. California has not yet adopted a statewide college readiness requirement, but a growing number of school districts—including Los Angeles Unified, San Jose Unified, Oakland Unified, San Diego Unified, and San Francisco Unified—now require students to complete the rigorous coursework, called the "a–g courses,” that are necessary for admission to the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) system.

In this report we look at participation and performance in rigorous high school courses among California high school students, both overall and across demographic and racial/ethnic groups. While enrollment in rigorous courses has been increasing, particularly among students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education, a large majority of California high school students are not taking the courses that can prepare them for college. Forty-three percent of high school graduates in 2015 completed the a–g requirement, and 27 percent of high school graduates in 2013 passed an advanced placement (AP) exam. Participation in advanced math, biology, chemistry, and physics courses is also low. In particular, only 30 percent of high school juniors and seniors enrolled in Algebra II and smaller shares enrolled in chemistry (28%) and physics (10%).

As they monitor the progress of public high schools in preparing students for college, state policymakers and districts need to focus on indicators such as a–g completion, benchmark course-taking, and end-of-course exam (EOC) results. We also recommend tracking performance across student groups to help schools and districts address gaps in achievement and provide educational resources to students who need them most.


Improving College Graduation Rates: A Closer Look at California State University

By Kevin Cook, Jacob Jackson

Low college graduation rates come at a high cost—lower salaries, lower tax revenue, and fewer college graduates in the workforce. At California State University (CSU), the nation's largest university system, graduation rates have an outsized financial and economic impact on students and the state.

CSU has made strides in improving graduation rates, but there is more work to be done. The system continues to struggle with graduation gaps—underrepresented students are much less likely to complete their degree compared to their peers, and these gaps have not narrowed over time. Also, CSU's on-time (four-year) graduation rates still lag behind those of similar universities nationwide.

By 2025, CSU aims to further increase graduation rates while cutting graduation gaps in half. To assist campus planning for this goal, we identify several promising programs and policies. More broadly, the CSU Chancellor's Office must work with campuses to evaluate and expand successful efforts, and the state must play a role in supporting new policies to move the needle on graduation gaps and on-time graduation.

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Putting the Governor’s Sentencing Proposal in Context

By Magnus Lofstrom, Brandon Martin

Governor Brown’s proposed ballot measure could significantly alter sentencing in California. It follows the path of decreased reliance on incarceration that the state has been on since 2009.


Implementing Local Accountability in California’s Schools: The First Year of Planning

By Paul Warren, Giselle Carrillo

The passage of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in 2013 gave California school districts flexibility in allocating resources and significantly boosted state support for the education of disadvantaged students. LCFF also includes a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which requires districts to enlist the help of parents and the public in identifying student performance goals and ways to achieve them. Our research in 25 California districts suggests that educators have worked hard to develop the first of these three-year plans, but that knowledge about strategic planning, data-driven decisionmaking, and involving parents and the public in the process varies significantly among districts. As a consequence, the clarity and effectiveness of the initial plans varies widely. The state can help by making technical assistance to districts and county offices of education available and affordable. Our research also indicates that expanding the role of county offices would help them push for improved student performance.

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Online Courses and Achievement Gaps

By Hans Johnson, Marisol Cuellar Mejia

Online learning offers the promise of expanded access to and success in higher education. To truly fulfill that promise, it must do so across the diverse population of California students.

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