Children in School Photo by Molly DeCoudreaux.

Report Card

Researchers Weigh California’s Progress in Educational Opportunities

Extensive survey affirms a stubborn opportunity gap for low-income students of color and English learners.

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At the Haas, Jr. Fund, we’ve been working for a decade with the San Francisco Unified School District to try and improve educational outcomes for low-income students of color. All along, we’ve known that the state government has a key role to play in the success of our students in our local schools, whether in San Francisco or anywhere else.

In a major new report we supported alongside other funders, researchers found that California has adopted some smart and effective statewide reforms that are improving instruction and student performance in classrooms across the state. But the report states in very clear terms that a lot of work is yet to be done, particularly in reducing opportunity gaps that still keep many low-income students of color from reaching their true potential.

The new report, Getting Down to Facts II, is a follow-up to a 2007 report that led to sweeping changes in the state’s K-12 educational system. Now, a decade later, researchers have offered an extensive look at the effects of those changes. They review what’s working—and what’s not—when it comes to the ultimate goal of supporting all of California’s 6.2 million K-12 students to succeed.

Among the findings that got my attention is that the education and opportunity gap for low-income students of color is still a huge problem—and it starts before students enter kindergarten. In fact, the research shows that California scores worse on “school readiness” for kindergarten students than many other states, in part because most low-income children of color in our state don’t have access to high-quality early learning opportunities. The research affirms that Black and Latino children and dual-language learners are less likely to have attended preschool than white children.

This pattern of some students not having the same opportunities as others continues through the K-12 years in California’s schools. For example, almost four out of ten K-12 students across the state enter school as “English learners,” but the research shows that these students don’t have equal access to quality instruction and bilingual teachers. In addition, low-income Latino, Black, and Native American students are more likely to be concentrated in under-resourced schools with other poor children.

In the past 10 years, California has adopted new academic standards and assessments and a new model for funding schools that puts more resources to those serving students with the greatest needs. All of these are positive steps, but the Getting Down to Facts II report shows we need to do more. At the Haas, Jr. Fund, we’re working with our partners in San Francisco and across the state to make sure these findings lead to real changes that will benefit all kids.

It’s time to build on existing reforms with a coordinated effort engaging school and district leaders, parents, community members, advocates, and policy makers to make sure every child in California has an equal opportunity to succeed.

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