Research shows reforms are narrowing achievement gaps

February 13, 2018 Staff Writer

New research shows that California’s overhaul of public education finance and accountability is narrowing achievement gaps between groups of students and helping parents learn about school progress.

The Learning Policy Institute has released “Money and Freedom: The Impact of California’s School Finance Reform,” a study by researcher Sean Tanner and UC Berkeley professor Rucker Johnson. The authors examined the impact of the landmark Local Control Funding Formula, which gave school districts greater control over the use of state funds in exchange for greater accountability and parent engagement at the local level. Approved in 2013, LCFF also increased funding to districts that serve students needing extra support.

The authors found that LCFF “led to significant increases in high school graduation rates and academic achievement, particularly among children from low-income families.” Students in the highest poverty districts showed greater academic gain, the authors reported. The study also found that LCFF funding was used to improve classroom learning by lowering student-to-teacher ratios and helping districts recruit and train new teachers.

“Money targeted to students’ needs can make a significant difference in outcomes and narrow achievement gaps,” the study said. “Money matters.”

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst noted that Tanner and Johnson’s study covers more years of research – and uses more recent data – than other studies on LCFF’s impact, making it more relevant to decision-making. “We still have work to do, and this research is very encouraging.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson agreed.

“These results show clear progress for the ‘California Way,’ our ambitious plan for improving education,” he said. “This includes increasing investment, expanding local control, giving greater resources to those with the greatest needs, raising academic standards, and providing parents and the public with high-quality information on measures of student progress.”

A new state poll shows growing support for the state’s recently launched school report card, the California School Dashboard.

A survey of state voters shows “enthusiastic” support for the California School Dashboard, an online tool that gives parents unprecedented access to important data about schools and districts. The survey was conducted for the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and Policy Analysis for California Education.

Almost two-thirds of Californians surveyed agreed that the information on the Dashboard is “an effective way to communicate outcomes” for students. More than half – 59 percent – agreed that the Dashboard is easy to use, and 57 percent said the Dashboard captures “important measures of districts and school quality.”

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