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Open Access Publications from the University of California

IDEA is a network of UCLA scholars and students, professionals in schools and public agencies, advocates, community activists, and urban youth. IDEA's mission is to make high quality public schooling and successful college participation routine occurrence in low income neighborhoods of color. Research and advocacy are the tools IDEA uses to empower individuals, build relationships, and create knowledge for civic participation and social change. Linking a great public research university with committed educators and supportive community alliances, IDEA seeks to become the intellectual home of a broad based social movement that challenges the pervasive racial and social class inequalities in Los Angeles and in cities around the nation.

Cover page of Concept 6 and Busing to Relieve Overcrowding: Structural Inequality in California Schools

Concept 6 and Busing to Relieve Overcrowding: Structural Inequality in California Schools


About 6% of California’s students attend schools that operate on a multi-track calendar known as Concept 6. On this calendar, three tracks rotate throughout the school year, with two tracks in session at any given time and a third on vacation. This results in the school year being broken up into separate blocks by two two-month long vacations, which occur at different times for different tracks. This calendar provides for the maximum enrollment given a school’s existing space. However, students who attend schools operating on the Concept 6 calendar suffer several clear disadvantages. These schools remain large, even with the implementation of this calendar. Students at Concept 6 schools also lose instructional time, since they have fewer days of school compared to other students, fewer nights for teachers to assign homework, and delays due to the need to review material at the beginning of each block of instruction. Furthermore, because of uneven distribution of curriculum across the different tracks, students have limited access to courses (including Advanced Placement courses) and specialized programs; the ill-timed breaks mean students have less access to extra-curricular activities. Students in Concept 6 schools have poorer academic performance than their peers in other schools. Likewise, busing seeks to address the negative effects of overcrowding, but creates inequities of its own. Students who are bused to school due to overcrowding suffer several disadvantages, including reduced parental involvement, an incentive to skip kindergarten (to avoid having to ride the bus), limited access to after-school programs, and poorer academic performance. Overall, students who attend schools on the Concept 6 calendar, as well as students who are bused to relieve overcrowding, receive a significantly lower quality education than that provided to the overwhelming majority of students in California.

Cover page of Racial Isolation, Poverty and the Limits of Local Control as a Means for Holding Public Schools Accountable

Racial Isolation, Poverty and the Limits of Local Control as a Means for Holding Public Schools Accountable


Drawing on research in Oakland, California over a twenty-year period, Noguera considers how poverty and racial isolation have contributed to the problems confronted by schools in that district and other inner-city communities around the state. He illuminates the factors that hinder the development of social capital in low-income communities, and, in doing so, demonstrates why local control does not make it easier for school systems to address the academic needs of poor students. The wide variation in the ability of different communities to generate revenue and other support for schools at the local level creates inequalities in the learning conditions and opportunities that schools provide students. The design of the state’s public education system exacerbates these inequities. Specifically, the state’s current approaches to local control make it possible for advantaged parents and communities with a vested interest in the affairs of public schools to monitor conditions in their schools. However, this form of local control is inadequate as a mechanism for holding schools accountable in high poverty areas. Noguera concludes that in order to improve reform efforts and policy implementation, the state must enact measures to mitigate the effects of poverty and racial isolation. Rather than presuming that all schools can be treated the same, the state must develop strategies to build the social capital of parents and cultivate the civic capacity of communities in low-income areas. Without such measures, local control will remain little more than a guise through which the State can shirk its responsibility for insuring that all students have access to quality education.

Cover page of School Facility Conditions and Student Academic Achievement

School Facility Conditions and Student Academic Achievement


This paper shows that the condition of school facilities has an important impact on student performance and teacher effectiveness. In particular, research demonstrates that comfortable classroom temperature and noise level are very important to efficient student performance. The age of school buildings is a useful proxy in this regard, since older facilities often have problems with thermal environment and noise level. A number of studies have measured overall building condition and its connection to student performance; these have consistently shown that students attending schools in better condition outperform students in substandard buildings by several percentage points. School building conditions also influence teacher effectiveness. Teachers report that physical improvements greatly enhance the teaching environment. Finally, school overcrowding also makes it harder for students to learn; this effect is greater for students from families of low socioeconomic status. Analyses show that class size reduction leads to higher student achievement.

Cover page of Education Inadequacy, Inequality, and Failed State Policy: A Synthesis of Expert Reports Prepared for Williams v. State of California

Education Inadequacy, Inequality, and Failed State Policy: A Synthesis of Expert Reports Prepared for Williams v. State of California


This report synthesizes the findings of a set of expert reports analyzing the plaintiffs’ claims in Williams v. State of California, and it presents the implications of those reports for changes in state policy and practice. It examines California students’ access to three basic requirements for educational quality and opportunity: qualified teachers; adequate textbooks and other relevant instructional materials; and clean, safe, and educationally appropriate facilities. It reviews the role of these resources and conditions in providing or limiting access to students’ opportunities for achievement, and, more specifically, it places the availability of these basic requirements in the context of California’s current standards-based education policies. This report considers both the overall availability of these essential conditions to California students and patterns in their distribution among schools serving different student groups. This synthesis also supplements the material in the expert reports with information from documents produced by the California Department of Education (CDE) and other State agencies, information generated by California schools and districts, and reports of independent organizations. Finally, it assesses the past performance of state education policies and officials in providing California’s students with the educational essentials they require, and suggests policy alternatives that would bring considerable improvement.

Cover page of You Can't Always Get What You Want: School Governance In California

You Can't Always Get What You Want: School Governance In California


Timar examines the institutional framework for California’s educational governance from historical and contemporary perspectives. While the Court has affirmed the state’s responsibility for the quality of educational services in schools, the state has delegated to schools the responsibility for delivery of educational services. The conditions alleged in the Williams case raise concerns about the capacity of this governance structure to provide California’s students with an adequate and equal education. Consequently, the question that frames this study is how do state structures and policies support or constrain the capacity of schools to deliver an adequate and equal education. Specifically, the paper addresses the following questions: Who is responsible for ensuring that schools have adequate resources? What means are available to determine if schools’ curriculum, personnel, facilities, and instructional materials are inadequate? What means exist for determining if a school is performing satisfactorily? What means exist for remedying deficiencies in schools? The paper’s major theme is that the irrationality, incoherence, and limited efficacy of California’s increasingly state-controlled system of governance are major contributing factors to the substandard conditions in many California schools.

Cover page of What Educational Resources Do Students Need to Meet California's Educational Content Standards?

What Educational Resources Do Students Need to Meet California's Educational Content Standards?


Koski and Weiss examine California’s educational content standards and related high-stakes accountability measures. They pose the following questions 1) Are higher content standards and stiffer accountability enough to ensure that all children achieve at high levels? 2) Can we be sure that all California students and schools—particularly those in low-income minority communities—enjoy the necessary support, conditions, and resources to succeed? Koski and Weiss answer these questions with an in-depth analysis of California’s K-12 standards and other related state policies, looking specifically at the minimum level of resources and conditions required for students to meet the state’s standards. Their analysis makes clear that California’s standards-based reform strategy and accountability scheme require the provision of basic educational tools, including teachers with particular knowledge and skills and appropriate instructional materials and facilities. However, the state’s policies do not address these requirements explicitly. No standards or accountability mechanisms currently exist to ensure that all children in California have the educational conditions and resources necessary to achieve at the high levels prescribed by the state. Koski and Weiss conclude that the state must analyze its curriculum frameworks and content standards systematically to create parallel standards that delineate the minimum educational resources and conditions required at each grade level for all students to have an adequate opportunity to learn the state’s standards.

Cover page of Civic Lessons

Civic Lessons


Michelle Fine examines how facilities’ problems, exposure to high levels of under-credentialed teachers, substantial teacher turnover, and inadequate books and materials produce adverse psychological and academic effects on children and adolescents attending schools with these characteristics. Using multiple methods of data collection across a diverse sample of elementary, middle school, high school, and college youth, Fine uses the voices of students to expose the adverse consequences of substandard schooling. She reveals that schools are not neutral institutions through which students pass without being affected. Indeed, the conditions in the schools that are the subject of Williams v. California have psychological, academic, and ultimately economic consequences that substantially worsen already existing social inequities. Despite the fact that poor and working class youth are asking for clean and safe school environments, quality educators, and rigorous instruction, the evidence suggests that the more years they spend in their schools, the more shame, anger, and mistrust they develop, and the more their engagement declines. Fine concludes that these schools are educating low-income youth and youth of color away from academic mastery and democracy and toward academic ignorance and civic alienation.

Cover page of California's Public School Accountability System

California's Public School Accountability System


Russell examines the extent to which California’s test based policies promote and/or inhibit California students’ access to basic learning resources and conditions. Russell reviews the history of California’s assessment systems and describes the current Academic Performance Index (API), analyzes recent survey data on the impact of testing, considers the experiences of other states, and simulates results under an alternative design for accountability in California. He finds that California’s accountability system has numerous technical shortcomings that prevent it from being a valid and useful indicator for either holding schools accountable for student learning or determining which schools are “low-performing” and warrant state intervention. The design of the system sets a target for schools that far exceeds national averages in student performance. The standardized test on which the API rankings are based is not aligned to state standards; in addition, problems in calculating accountability rankings from results on the test make the former poor expressions of student achievement. However, he also concludes that even if the technical shortcomings were fixed and/or prior decisions were altered to make expectations for most schools more reasonable, California’s single-minded focus on student outcomes as measured by standardized tests fails to adequately prevent, detect or deter gross disparities in education. A system that focuses solely on student learning outcomes, no matter how broadly defined, cannot provide schools and their constituents with information that allows them to identify why students succeed or fail to succeed. Furthermore, reliance on standardized testing tends to result in a narrowing of curriculum and instructional strategies. Evidence from other states shows that more successful accountability systems are possible. Russell concludes that an improved accountability system in California should include an emphasis on educational inputs, the use of better and more varied output measures, and a sensitivity to local contexts.

Cover page of Essential Learning Conditions for California Youth: Educational Facilities

Essential Learning Conditions for California Youth: Educational Facilities


Ortiz begins with research showing that safe, healthy, and uncrowded school facilities are a basic ingredient of a good educational program. When teachers work in well-designed and highly functional school buildings, they are able to be more effective than when they must teach in inadequate facilities. Ortiz sets these findings against the evidence that a high proportion of California’s educational facilities are inadequate because they are crowded, old, and in need of repair and modernization. She finds that pressures from increased enrollment in the state due to demographic changes and class size reduction, an average age of the state’s school buildings of over 25 years, and the high cost of facilities have all contributed to the current inadequacies. However, the State’s responses to the many problems with educational facilities have been severely limited by flaws in policies establishing the state’s relationships with local districts with regard to funding, inventory, and oversight of educational facilities. The State has failed to establish a system of state financing to ensure that funds are available to and used by districts with schools in the poorest conditions. It has failed to promulgate minimum standards for school facility conditions and maintenance, develop systematic ways of monitoring conditions in schools throughout the state, or maintain effective investigation and correction processes when serious deficiencies are reported.

Cover page of Access to Quality Teaching: An Analysis of Inequality in California’s Public Schools

Access to Quality Teaching: An Analysis of Inequality in California’s Public Schools


Darling-Hammond’s paper tackles four key issues related to the state’s teaching force and its distribution among various groups of students: 1) What does the state of California expect of its students and its teachers? In particular, what qualifications does the state require of teachers so that they can support student learning? 2) How does teacher quality matter for equal educational opportunity? 3) Do California students have equal access to qualified teachers who can offer the instruction they need to master the state standards? 4) How might the discrepancies in students’ access to qualified teachers best be remedied, given the policy context and knowledge about successful policy elsewhere? Drawing on a wealth of empirical studies, the paper reveals the critical relationship between qualified teachers and student academic achievement. It also explains that new state standards, an increasingly diverse student population, together with the skills needed to participate in a knowledge-based society create an urgent demand for skilled and effective teachers. The paper also illuminates the notion that the shortage of qualified teachers in schools predominantly serving children of color and poor students does not result from an overall lack of qualified teachers in the state. Rather, Darling-Hammond attributes this problem to a failure of state oversight to ensure that qualified teachers remain in the system and that they are equitably distributed among schools and communities. Finally, Darling-Hammond’s comparison of California policies with those in other states lays the groundwork for new state policies that would support more equitable access to quality teachers.