Shared Accountability to Improve Educational Outcomes of Foster Youth: Examining the Conditions that Influence Evidence-Based Decision Making
Foster youth in the K-12 setting consistently perform below most student subgroups due to high rates of school transfer and psychological problems from abuse or neglect. They were largely invisible to K–12 practitioners until 2013, when California became the first state to legislate the tracking of foster student performance. Although educators are accustomed to evidence-based decision-making practices as required under federal law, foster youth present a unique set of challenges - high mobility rates impact information sharing, and foster youth require a broad set of stakeholders to inform decision-making, including social workers, psychologists and educational rights holders.
This dissertation research explored the first-year implementation of foster youth accountability legislation in the 80 school districts within Los Angeles County. Using a sequential mixed-methods descriptive approach, this study sought answers to four research questions: (a) How do K–12 districts support the educational success of foster youth?; (b) What evidence do K–12 district leaders use to guide decision-making for foster youth?; (c) How do K–12 district leaders value this evidence?; and (d) What are the organizational conditions that influence data-informed decision-making regarding foster youth in K–12 districts?
A content analysis of Local Control Accountability Plans from all 80 school districts within Los Angeles County revealed low implementation of strategies to address the needs of foster youth. Moreover, actions and metrics articulated in the plans did not fully align with the needs of foster youth identified in the literature. A subsequent survey of 49 foster youth liaisons from across the county, along with 10 follow-up structured interviews, provided practitioner insight into the challenges of implementing foster youth policy.
Recommendations for policy-makers and practitioners include: (a) centralizing foster youth data for easier access by decision-makers; (b) aligning actions and metrics of accountability plans to research-based needs of foster youth; (c) building capacity among K–12 practitioners through training; (d) establishing regional professional networks for district staff serving foster youth; (e) increasing participation of foster youth experts in decision-making; (f) streamlining information sharing through a foster youth learning plan template; and (g) establishing mandated structures for the coordination of services.