California Makes Bold Investments in Lowest Performing Students

September 10, 2018

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Across the nation, a public debate has launched about equity in our public education system and the steps that must be taken to close the achievement gap and improve educational outcomes for our lowest-performing students. Recently, California took a huge step forward in supporting thousands of students who are being left behind academically year after year. Thanks to new funding, our state's lowest-performing students will soon receive an additional $2,000 in per pupil educational funding through the "Low Performing Students Block Grant."

This critical new one-time funding, adapted from Assembly Bill (AB) 2635, will help close the achievement gap and increase funding for nearly 150,000 of the state's lowest-performing students by driving additional resources to school districts, county offices of education, and charter public schools.

It is because of a diverse coalition of leaders and community stakeholders that this funding became a reality. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, Assemblyman Mike Gipson, and Assemblywoman Autumn Burke championed the original bill, AB 2635, which was sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. Governor Jerry Brown also played an instrumental role negotiating with Dr. Weber to put the one-time funding of $300 million into the Budget Act, without which this funding wouldn't be possible. Along the way, the Legislative Black Caucus, the entire California State Assembly, the California School Boards Association, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women: Sacramento, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Orange County chapters, and California African American Superintendents and Administrators also supported this new funding.

Gov. Jerry Brown's Local Control Funding Formula (the state's education funding system which includes most public school revenues) identifies three classifications of "high needs" students for additional funding: English learners, low-income students and foster youth. But, until this one-time block grant was funded, the formula overlooked our lowest-performing students statewide who are not classified as low-income, English Learners, or foster youth, but still perform below average on English and math tests.

The great news is that this funding will demand greater accountability from traditional district and charter public schools. However, the challenge that lies ahead is to use the money in a way that directly addresses the needs of students who scored in the lower levels of English Language Arts or mathematics on the state standardized tests.

As part of their strategies to address the lower performing students, school leaders should consider the research on what high performing, high poverty, high minority schools are doing to close the achievement gap, since poor and minority students tend to dominate these lower levels.

In the second edition of my book, "Bridging the Achievement Gap: What Successful Educators and Parents Do," I take a look at several schools and how they've achieved success, including Wilder's Preparatory Academy, Cowan Avenue Elementary, Baldwin Hill Elementary, and Fortune School, among many others. There are several examples of what led to student success across these schools including that they practice flexibility in their approach to educating students, remain committed and accountable to a unified vision and plan that school staff and parents understand, and they believe in and work together to achieve success for their low-performing students. These schools have an easy to understand programmatic structure that educators can successfully implement, while allowing for creativity in their approach because education is not "one-size fits all" and should ebb and flow with students as they change and grow.

Once school leaders identify practices they'd like to implement, the onus is on them clearly document their objectives, how funding will be dedicated to achieving those objectives, and what results can eventually be attributed to these new funds.

However, in order to secure future ongoing support, schools will need to help make the case for how continued state and local support is necessary to make lasting progress with students that would likely be realized over the next several years. We also need to determine how this funding ultimately fits in with California's Local Control Funding Formula.

To the extent that closing the achievement gap for our lowest performing students can be accomplished in one year with one-time funding, the problem is solved. But history suggests that this protracted achievement gap problem will likely take longer than a single year, even with a promising plan of action. In other words, there's more work that must be done for California's lowest-performing students in order to once and for all close the achievement gap and deliver on our promise of a high-quality public education for our students.

Dr. Rex Fortune served as the Associate Superintendent of Public Instruction in the California Department of Education and superintendent of two California school districts. He founded Fortune School of Education (FSE), established a Master's Degree in Education program for FSE graduates, and worked with his daughter, Dr. Margaret Fortune, who established a charter management organization and is the President and CEO of the Fortune School of Education. Dr. Fortune served as past chairman of the board of Fortune School of Education and as its director of research and evaluation. He also served as past president of the Pacific Charter Institute board. Fortune received his B.S. degree in biology and US Army Commission from A & T State University of North Carolina, his MA in educational administration from UC Berkeley and his PhD in educational administration from Stanford University. "Bridging the Achievement Gap: What Successful Educators and Parents Do Second Edition," is expected to be released by BookBaby.com in September 2018 is his fifth book in Education. All three of his children are college graduates. Fortune and his wife Margaret S. Fortune live in Granite Bay, California. See Fortune's publications on his website, www.fortuneandassociates.com.