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Chris Steinhauser: 3 tips for Gov. Brown on how to close California’s pervasive achievement gaps

Chris Steinhauser | January 22, 2018

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An open letter to the governor of California prior to his final State of the State Address:

Dear Governor Jerry Brown,

Your January 25 State of the State Address coincides with the midpoint in the academic year for our local schools and students. A review of public education’s progress and challenges is warranted. Much work remains for our students and schools to reach their highest potential and for our education system to close pervasive achievement gaps. Long Beach Unified School District is one of eight California CORE Districts purposely working to understand these gaps and the systems that are producing them. From the desk of this superintendent, here are three reflections:

We must hold ourselves accountable for every student every day.

While it is noteworthy that our schools and students are making overall gains across multiple measures including test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates, disparities continue to exist for some student groups compared to others. Our data are revealing. When we consider existing policies such as the Local Control Funding Formula, our data show that achievement gaps are widening in both English language arts and math for African-American and Latino students compared to white and Asian students when we look at how far the average student is from being on grade level. Also, math data from the CORE Districts show that while white students in poverty are outperforming Latino and African-American students not in poverty, scores for the latter student groups have improved substantively.

The state should not bury these distinctive gaps in its new accountability dashboard. Our efforts to monitor and highlight these achievement gaps are strategic, so together we can work to replicate teaching strategies having the most impact with every student in every classroom.

Innovation improves policy.

The CORE Districts and Long Beach, in particular, have long been recognized for innovation beyond the boundaries of existing local and state policies. We will continue to pursue policy improvements that we identify as necessary. One major initiative that sets the CORE Districts apart is our pursuit of college and career readiness guides for all students. This is a work in progress, and Long Beach is taking the lead by sending seven-page customized guides twice yearly to students in grades 8 through 12 and their parents. Created with feedback from parents who wanted practical, “how-to” information on college readiness, these guides are game changers, especially for families whose children are the first to apply to college. The state has a role to play here too.

Our district also covers the cost of SAT and PSAT exams and offers a free, 38-hour SAT prep course on high school campuses as part of the Long Beach College Promise, the partnership among the district, local colleges, and the city that aims to give every child the opportunity to go to college. State policies should offer greater flexibility. Rather than mandate specific testing for all 11th-grade students, the state should support our initiative with the SAT and the interests of our local students, parents, and educators.

Data and transparency matter.

Long Beach voluntarily shares its data and learning, along with dozens of other urban, rural, and suburban districts and charter schools, within the CORE network that now serves more than 2 million California students. The CORE system was created by educators working with experts to help schools better identify strengths and weaknesses across multiple state and local measures. The CORE system is more robust than the state’s dashboard because, in part, it takes into account student level growth. It measures the impact schools are having with their students in relation to students like them, in schools like them, with performance like them.

On growth in particular, our data account for various student demographics including poverty, and we account for the level of poverty at school sites. This means that low-performing schools, specifically schools that serve lots of low-income students, students of color, and other historically disadvantaged groups have an equal chance of showing strong growth as high-performing schools with mostly white and Asian students. We purposely share easy-to-use CORE reports with educators and parents as part of our annual analysis and goal-setting processes and to determine where resources should be spent. A substantial piece of the goal-setting process is student level growth, data that ought to be available statewide to help close achievement gaps.

Long Beach and the CORE network will continue to share our learning so that we can change systems and policies that hold some students back while others succeed. We certainly have accomplished a lot, but it is very clear that the need to close achievement gaps is greater than ever. Best wishes on your final State of the State.


Chris Steinhauser

Superintendent of Long Beach Unified School District and president of the CORE Districts

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