New research detailed in a report titled "Getting Down To Facts II" examines how California’s students are still lagging behind their peers nationwide, with minority, low-income or special education students typically faring the worst.
By focusing more on infant and toddler care, parenting skills, preschool and early childhood education — factors that affect all students, though low-income black and Latino students are often the least-prepared — the researchers suggest that California could improve its student achievement in schools, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Within the state, school days lost per 100 students enrolled was about four times higher for black students than for white students during the 2016-17 school year, Education Week reported, and that difference was about the same between students with disabilities and those without, with black and Native American special ed students losing more time than their white special ed peers.
"Getting Down to Facts II" is the follow-up to an influential policy report released over a decade ago, including the work of over 50 education researchers in 35 studies summarized in 19 research briefs. And while the data shows that things are getting better than they were, plenty of challenges remain, as Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond told Education Dive regarding the report's data recently.
California’s issues in education stem from several long-persisting factors. For one, harsh school disciplinary policies continue to prove harmful to students, especially those of color, by fueling the school-to-prison pipeline. School discipline has continued to be discussed as a major source of racial bias and discrimination, mainly against minority students who are suspended over minor violations. One by one, cities across the country are catching flak from critics who say they have racial biases within them.
Research also says the state’s students are less prepared because of factors that don’t get enough attention, like early-childhood education and parenting skills. California’s early-childhood education system is said to be underfunded and complex; on top of that, dual-language learners — including the English learners who make up more than a third of the state’s students — as well as black and Latino students are less likely to attend preschool in the first place. Creating a more robust system with better (and more) resources, as well as dedicating tools to getting kids into classrooms at an early age, is more likely to promote success among all of California’s young learners.
California has worked to improve on these fronts in recent years. Its legislature voted to expand the state’s suspension ban for “disruption and defiance” through the 8th grade, which would lower the frequency of this type of discipline. Some school districts have also launched a pilot program that would develop a training curriculum to address achievement and discipline disparities, and its state budget sets aside funding to find other methods. Programs like multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), restorative justice and meditation are some options educators can explore before resorting to taking students out of school and causing them to fall behind their peers.
These are themes that aren’t unique to California, with states including Virginia seeing problems and pushing to change policy. They also speak to issues that reach the top of the food chain, with federal education funding still lacking in the eyes of key education players. The system isn’t set up to be perfect, but districts can keep taking steps to improve. How they can start: A stronger commitment to achieving equity — along with a clear plan, timeline and set of goals to do so — will more effectively help close the gap, not only between California’s students, but others across the nation.