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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 Educational Equity and School Structure: School Size, School Overcrowding, and Alternative Organizational Structures

Educational Equity and School Structure: School Size, School Overcrowding, and Alternative Organizational Structures


Lee, Ready, and Welner focus on the interface between educational equity and the structure of schools, examining school size, school overcrowding, and two features of school organization: magnet schools and schools-within-schools. They provide an interpretive summary of existing studies of these topics, concentrating on how these structural issues relate to social stratification in student outcomes, particularly academic achievement. The evidence they provide is drawn from both national studies and, when available and appropriate, from research that discusses the effects of school structure in California's schools. Lee, Ready, and Welner use this evidence to define which size high schools are best for all students (under 1,000 students), which responses to school overcrowding are appropriate (building more schools rather than adding portable classrooms or multi-track year round schooling), how magnet schools can decrease rather than increase inequality (by making regular public schools more like magnet schools), and how creating smaller learning communities in high schools can work well for everyone (by not allowing this mechanism to increase stratification). They also show that California policies have not promoted these responses, and, in many cases may have actually exacerbated inequality in educational outcomes by race, ethnicity, and class.

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.

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 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 State Oversight and the Improvement of Low-Performing School in California

State Oversight and the Improvement of Low-Performing School in California


Mintrop examines the degree to which California’s systems of public school accountability and state oversight enable the state to ensure that students in the state’s lowest performing schools have educational opportunities equal to those in other schools. He finds that California’s current system of state oversight lacks standards of adequacy for learning conditions that can potentially be evaluated statewide and that schools can use to evaluate themselves. While the state’s accountability system as currently constructed defines standards of student and school performance with the help of the academic performance index (API), the state lacks mechanisms to identify performance barriers systematically across schools that do not meet adequate performance standards, as defined by API growth targets. Many performance barriers encountered by schools are systemic, that is, caused by district (and state) policies, yet the current school-based accountability system ignores this. As a result, the state has no way of knowing what statewide policies and local interventions are needed to move underperforming schools to adequate performance levels. Further, oversight and support to schools and districts that are in need or distress according to the state’s own performance criteria are insufficient. Large numbers of schools that qualify for the state’s Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II/USP) are not reached through state oversight or support. Moreover, there is little evidence that the state has developed effective intervention systems for a sizable number of schools and districts that have not improved sufficiently according to the state’s own performance criteria. Mintrop concludes that California lacks standards for adequate school operations, systematic mechanisms to detect performance barriers, and sufficient provision of support and intervention.

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 The Inequitable Treatment of English Learners in California's Public Schools

The Inequitable Treatment of English Learners in California's Public Schools


Gandara and Rumberger investigate the extent to which California’s English Learners—one-fourth of the state’s public school population—have access to the teachers, instructional materials, and facilities that will enable them to succeed in an English-only, standards-based policy system in which they must learn and compete for grade-to-grade promotion and high school graduation along side (and on the same terms as) their English speaking peers. Gandara and Rumberger conclude that that these students receive a substantially inequitable education vis-à-vis their English-speaking peers, even when those peers are similarly economically disadvantaged. They demonstrate that California has failed in its duty to guarantee that EL students have the teachers, the curriculum, the instruction, the assessment, and the support services they need to achieve meaningful access to the same academic content as native English speaking students. Furthermore, when the state has become aware of specific substandard learning conditions for English Learners it has failed to act effectively to correct these problems. Furthermore, with an ill planned class size reduction program and the poorly articulated implementation of Proposition 227, the state has worsened the learning conditions for these students.

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 The Role of California’s Parents in Insuring Quality Schooling For All

The Role of California’s Parents in Insuring Quality Schooling For All


Rogers explores the role of parents, ordinary citizens, and local school boards in preventing or detecting and thus helping to correct substandard conditions in California’s schools. California has constructed an elaborate accountability system for insuring school quality and promoting school improvement that includes substantial references to parent participation. Rogers seeks to make sense of the State’s commitment to and practice of engaging parents in its accountability system. It answers the following questions: Does the State of California offer a clear vision of how parents can help insure that their children’s schools offer the full range of learning opportunities promised by the State? What conditions are necessary for parents to play such a role? Does the State provide for these conditions? Rogers’ offers a four-part analysis. He first considers the meaning of parent involvement in educational accountability, focusing on the role of parents in accessing, contributing to, and acting upon information about students’ opportunity to learn and school quality. Second, Rogers draws on a wide array of State policies on parent involvement in public school accountability and school improvement to lay out a comprehensive overview of the State’s commitment to parent participation in educational accountability. Third, he uses empirical evidence from two case studies to assess whether California provides parents with the opportunities that its own framework claims to provide. Fourth, building upon the State of California’s own vision of parent participation in accountability, Rogers points to the requirements of an educational accountability system that allows parents to play a meaningful role in insuring safe and quality learning conditions for all students.

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.