Category Archives: publications

New Schools, Overcrowding Relief, and Achievement Gains in Los Angeles – Strong Returns from a $19.5 Billion Investment

Aiming to relieve overcrowded schools operating on multiple tracks, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has invested more than $19 billion to build 130 new facilities over the past decade. In a new PACE policy brief, William Welsh, Erin Coghlan, Bruce Fuller, and Luke Dauter from the University of California – Berkeley analyze the effects on student achievement of this massive initiative. Tracking thousands of students who moved from overcrowded to new facilities over the 2002-2008 period, the authors discovered robust achievement gains for many students.

Elementary-school pupils who switched from an old facility to a newly constructed facility experienced significant achievement gains. On average, these ‘switching pupils’ outpaced the average LAUSD student by a gain equal to about 35 additional days of instruction each year. The largest achievement gains were found for elementary students who escaped severe overcrowding by moving to a new elementary school. Relative to the rate of learning for the average LAUSD student, this subset of students enjoyed achievement gains equivalent to about 65 days of additional instruction per year. Students who remained in previously overcrowded elementary schools experienced modest gains after a new school opened nearby, compared with the average LAUSD student.

Significant achievement gains were limited to elementary school students. New high school facilities produced weak and inconsistent achievement gains at best for their students.

Click HERE to download full report

How Next-Generation Standards and Assessments Can Foster Success for California’s English Learners

How Next-Generation Standards and Assessments Can Foster Success for California’s English Learners

A new PACE policy brief, by Robert Linquanti, Project Director and Senior Researcher at WestEd, and Kenji Hakuta, Professor of Education at Stanford University, examines how next-generation standards and assessments can foster success for California’s English Learners.

California cannot afford to ignore or postpone questions of how to support the academic success of English Learners (ELs) in the state’s K-12 education system. Language-minority students already represent more than 40 percent of the state’s K-12 public education students, and their share of enrollment is growing. How well California serves these students will help determine the vitality of the state’s economy and society in the years ahead.

In this policy brief, the authors argue that next-generation college- and career-ready standards signal a fundamental shift in the expectations for sophisticated language practices required of all students. This shift has enormous systemic implications for how we assess ELs’ academic performance; what English Language Development (ELD) standards emphasize; how we instruct and assess ELD to better develop ELs’ academic uses of language; how teachers instruct and students learn both language and content; and how the state can design more nuanced, responsive accountability policies and systems.

California’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), its revision of State ELD standards, and its governing state role in the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) all present opportunities to move forward on the challenges of fairly and accurately assessing the academic performance of English Learners.

Linquanti and Hakuta argue that:

  1. The state should address the correspondence between its ELD standards and its content standards strategically, to identify and prioritize aspects of the CCSS that maximize the potential for new assessments to attend to and measure language that is most relevant to academic content constructs.
  2. The next-generation academic content assessments now being developed by SBAC must move toward gauging the use of academic language of all students and reporting on their performance.
  3. Educators need to shift how they provide both ELD and core content instruction so that EL students have greater opportunities to learn language through content, and to learn content using language.

The authors offer concrete recommendations throughout the brief to help educational leaders and policymakers move toward these goals.

As California implements next-generation standards, instruction, assessments, and accountability, our state is uniquely situated – both in its needs and its resources – to help advance these interrelated efforts in directions that are more meaningful, relevant, and effective for its many EL and language-minority students, as well as for its teachers, parents and other stakeholders.

Click HERE to download full report

Deregulating School Aid in California: Revenues and Expenditures in the Second Year of Categorical Flexibility

By Jennifer Imazeki

California’s system of school finance is highly regulated and prescriptive. A large share of state funding is allocated through categorical programs; that is, programs whose funding is contingent on districts using the money in a particular way or for a particular purpose. In 2008–09, the strings were taken off 40 of those programs, collectively known as the “Tier 3″ programs, as part of a budget deal that also reduced the funding for those programs. The author gathers evidence about how districts have responded to this fiscal freedom, particularly how resource allocations are made at the district level and what specific changes districts have made in their allocations. Although concerns have been raised that those districts with relatively more Tier 3 funding have been disproportionately affected by the state’s budget crisis, the data show that districts with more Tier 3 funding lost a similar share of their budget as other districts (although that represents larger per-pupil dollar amounts). Furthermore, so far and on average, districts do not appear to be making large-scale changes in how they are spending their money.

Key Findings
Almost All Districts Have Lost Revenue over the Past Few Years; Districts with More Tier 3 Funding Lost a Similar Share of Their Total Budget as Other Districts

  • All districts have protected instructional personnel, special education, and pre-kindergarten.
  • Variation in how districts have responded to the budget cuts and the Tier 3 flexibility does not seem to be strongly correlated with any observable district characteristics.
  • The majority of Tier 3 funds are spent on direct instruction, with a slight shift toward personnel over other items.
  • Districts do not appear to be making large-scale changes in how they are spending their funds.

Districts with More Tier 3 Revenue per Pupil Spent Relatively More of That Revenue on Alternative Education, Adult Education, and Other Noninstructional Goals

  • They spent relatively less of their overall budgets on instructional personnel but relatively more of their total budget on pupil services and “all other” functions, possibly because they tend to have more students with higher needs (e.g., lower-performing, higher-poverty students), and they must devote more of their budgets to such pupil services such as counseling, health, and food.
  • They also seem to be somewhat more aggressive about maintaining special education.

Click HERE for full report

Deregulating School Aid in California: How Districts Responded to Flexibility in Tier 3 Categorical Funds in 2010–2011

By Brian M. Stecher, Bruce Fuller, Tom Timar. Julie A. Marsh, with Mary Briggs, Bing Han, Beth Katz, Angeline Spain, Anisah Waite

California’s system of school finance is highly regulated and prescriptive. A large share of state funding is allocated through categorical programs, that is, programs whose funding is contingent upon districts using the money in a particular way or for a particular purpose. In 2008–09, the strings were taken off 40 of those programs, collectively known as the “Tier 3″ programs, as part of a budget deal that also reduced the funding for those programs. The authors conducted a survey of 350 California school district chief financial officers (CFOs) between April and August of 2011 to see how district leaders responded to this sudden, limited fiscal flexibility and the conditions that shaped their decisions.

Key Findings

School District Leaders Had Limited Understanding of the Legislature’s Intent and Regulations Governing Tier 3 Funds

  • A year after implementation, uncertainty still persisted over the purposes of Tier 3 flexibility and the rules governing it.
  • Chief financial officers (CFOs) relied heavily on School Services of California and their county offices of education to make sense of the rules and regulations related to Tier 3 flexibility.

Decisions Were Made by District Central Office Staff

  • CFOs and superintendents had the greatest say in how Tier 3 funds were used.

The Bulk of Tier 3 Program Funds Were Reallocated, That Is, “Swept” into District General Funds to Help Meet Districts’ Most Pressing Needs

  • CFOs reported three top priorities: preserving fiscal solvency, retaining staff, and protecting current instructional programs.
  • There was nearly unanimous agreement that flexibility helped districts avoid layoffs and salary reductions.
  • Some programs took heavier hits than others, such as programs linked to teacher quality.
  • CFOs expect to reduce classified and certificated staff and increase class size in 2012 but were less likely to anticipate changes that require renegotiating contract provisions.


  • The legislature and governor should articulate clearly the purposes of fiscal flexibility in order to reduce confusion at the local level.
  • If the legislature and governor hold particular priorities with regard to improving the performance of low-achieving students or advancing certain reform models, those priorities should be made explicit to local educators.
  • Educators should have much clearer information and guidance to deal with multiple, interrelated policy changes.
  • The California Department of Education should require districts to use a common system for reporting on revenues and expenditures.
  • Policymakers should require an evaluation of the impact of flexibility to determine which students, schools, and programs benefit from fiscal flexibility, and which do not.

Click HERE for full report.

School Finance Reform – A Weighted Pupil Formula for California

Governor Jerry Brown has called for a major overhaul of California’s school finance policies. His proposal for a weighted pupil funding system would simplify the rules that govern the distribution of funds to schools and school districts, while targeting a larger share of available resources to the schools and students with the greatest needs. In this policy report Mary Perry offers an overview and analysis of the policy change that the Governor has proposed. She reviews criticisms of California’s current school funding system, the basic principles that define a weighted pupil funding formula, the key features of Governor Brown’s proposal to the Legislature, and some of the political and practical issues raised by a move to weighted pupil funding.

Developmental Students: Their Heterogeneity and Readiness


This report commemorates the fifth anniversary of the Getting Down to Facts project, which sought to provide a thorough and reliable analysis of the critical challenges facing California’s education system as the necessary basis for an informed discussion of policy changes aimed at improving the performance of California schools and students. The report focuses on the four key issues that received emphasis in the Getting Down to Facts studies: governance, finance, personnel, and data systems.

Developmental Students: Their Heterogeneity and Readiness

California’s Early Assessment Program: Its Effectiveness and the Obstacles to Successful Program Implementation

The Early Assessment Program (EAP) has emerged as a national model for states seeking to design policies that increase the number of students who leave high school ready for college and careers. In addition, the two national consortia designing new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards have recognized the EAP as a model for the design of new high school assessments, which California will implement in 2014-15. The report was written by Hilary McLean of Capitol Impact, LLC.

The report describes the key features of the EAP, with a particular focus on the ways in which the program can help to strengthen coherence and alignment in California’s fragmented educational system. The report reviews the available research on the EAP and its impact on student access and success in post-secondary education, and identifies ways in which the program could be modified to increase its value to California students and educators.

Developmental Students: Their Heterogeneity and Readiness

Developmental Students: Their Heterogeneity and Readiness

In the sixth of eleven PACE Working Papers, W. Norton Grubb et al. continue their analysis of basic skills education in California Community Colleges.

When one observes many developmental classrooms, the most striking aspect is the heterogeneity of students. Some are “brush-up” students, who simply need to remember skills they have already learned. Some have been misplaced by placement exams, and similarly need very little additional instruction. Many — almost surely the majority — have failed to learn certain academic skills in many years of K-12 education, for reasons that are hotly debated. Others have learning disabilities or mental health issues, and colleges have no way of either diagnosing or treating such conditions. The result is that the developmental classroom contains many students with different needs, while the instructor has only varying instructional approaches to offer.

While it may seem that community colleges are already highly differentiated, this working paper implicitly argues that they need to be further differentiated to respond to the variety of students and the enormous differences in their needs. The conclusion provides a number of suggestions for further differentiating colleges in order to serve all the needs of their enormously varied students.

Developmental Students: Their Heterogeneity and Readiness