- By: James Lanich, Director of the California State University Center to Close the Achievement Gap
Everywhere you turn these days is another news story, research study or government initiative highlighting the need to close the achievement gap in our public schools. But where are the key levers to address this critical issue?
The starting point, and most important lever, is to ensure an effective teacher is in every classroom. This can be done at scale by learning directly from those teachers and schools that are raising student academic achievement and closing achievement gaps.
The California State University (CSU) Center to Close the Achievement Gap is tackling this challenge head-on by identifying and investigating these successful schools in order to inform teacher preparation across the state. The CSU system prepares more than half of all teachers in the state. The goal of the center is to transform preparation and performance of new teachers and administrators in CSU Colleges of Education across California.
Participating CSU faculty and deans have begun to study the high-performing, high-poverty, high-minority school districts and schools that are consistently outperforming expectations for student achievement, so that these best practices might be reflected in educator preparation programs.
These schools have been identified by Educational Results Partnership, an organization devoted to data analysis and school improvement and are recognized annually on the California Business for Education Excellence (CBEE) Honor Roll.
Led by CBEE and three founding CSU campuses in San Diego,Long Beach and Fresno, the CSU Center is a partnership between the California business community and the CSU system.
Numerous businesses and foundations have contributed more than $1 million to lead this important work, including State Farm Insurance, Macy’s, Wells Fargo, Blue Shield of California, Edison International, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bechtel Foundation, and United Way of the Bay Area.
“We have an excellent college and university system in California, but not enough of our students, particularly students of color and those from low-income families, are coming out of high school ready to attend these universities, and earn a bachelor’s degree,” states Greg Jones, CBEE chairman.
“To address this challenge, the CSU Center ensures that new teachers employ the best practices from successful schools to help all of their students reach their potential,” Jones says.
This partnership addresses the business, economic and civil rights imperative of closing the achievement gap. In addition, the partnership addresses the goal of producing nearly 1 million more students with baccalaureate degrees by 2025 to meet the needs of the changing California economy.
Business leaders have an important role in the center and a direct stake in improving the results in our public schools by preparing more students to succeed in college.
Best Practices Exchange
High-performing districts and schools are identified through a comprehensive data analysis of student academic achievement over time using the free, online EdResults.org data system. These districts and schools have not only shown consistent increases in student proficiency on the California Standards Test over time, but they outperform similar districts and schools for every subgroup of students (categorized by ethnicity, income levels, English learners, etc.).
In other words, the districts are raising student academic achievement and closing achievement gaps in some of the most challenging schools.
The cornerstone of the work is a peer exchange (teacher-to-teacher, principal-to-principal, faculty-to-faculty) of best practice strategies that raise student achievement as documented by comprehensive achievement data and other evidence of success.
This exchange of best practices will serve to inform the curriculum of teacher and administrator preparation programs, so that new educators will learn about the skills and strategies useful in raising student achievement from their first day in the classroom.
The exchange also focuses the discussion and research on documented evidence of teaching practices most likely to produce measurable results.
Faculty and deans of the colleges of education at the three founding CSU campuses have begun this investigation and sharing of best practices by visiting two high-performing, high-poverty school districts—Sanger Unified School District in the Central Valley and Chula Vista Elementary School District in the San Diego area.
“Our faculty’s participation in the center’s activities ensures we are providing teacher and administrator candidates with the knowledge, skills and experiences that will equip them to be successful when they enter their schools and classrooms,” says Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, dean of theCollege of Educationat CSU Long Beach.
“Our visits to Chula Vista Elementary School District and Sanger Unified have opened up new doors, and stimulated our professional learning through remarkable dialogue and investigation of the practices of these impressive leaders and teachers,” she says.
Demonstration by Example
High-performing schools and teachers demonstrate by example that all schools can replicate best practices and help to systematically narrow, and eventually close the achievement gap. They can learn from each other on how to best close that gap.
New teachers entering our public schools can be equipped with the same expectations and instructional tools found in these high-performing school and district sites. The CSU Center hopes to ensure this will happen on a much broader scale.
The center’s goal is to share these best practices with many more colleges of education, districts and schools, not by telling educators how to do it, but by connecting them in a professional peer exchange of proven strategies and evidence-based ideas that are actually working in our schools.
Our experience in studying high-performing schools and districts shows that when schools are focused on clear, coherent and specific practices, and measurable results, the achievement gap can be closed much more rapidly.
James Lanich is the director of the California State University Center to Close the Achievement Gap and is a former Los Angeles Unified schoolteacher. He can be reached at (916) 752-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.