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Study Reveals How LBUSD 'Beats the Odds'

An independent research institute that listed the Long Beach Unified School District among California “Districts Beating the Odds” in May has now released an in-depth case study on LBUSD.  The report describes “the critical practices and policies that have promoted student learning, especially among students of color.”

The “Long Beach Unified School District: Positive Outliers Case Study” was released today by the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute during a Sacramento event that brought together researchers and officials from the California Department of Education, California Teachers Association, California School Boards Association and other statewide education organizations.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., LPI seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support equitable learning for every child.

“LBUSD has been nationally recognized as a consistently high-functioning district for more than two decades,” states the 75-page study co-authored by LPI researchers Desiree Carver-Thomas and Anne Podolsky.  “All in all, student success in LBUSD was attributed to the district’s evidence-based planning, thoughtful implementation and comprehensive systems of support.”

Long Beach was one of seven school districts where LPI conducted case studies.  In addition to these case studies, LPI issued a new report with policy recommendations based upon findings and commonalities in these seven school systems: “Closing the Opportunity Gap: How Positive Outlier Districts in California Are Pursuing Equitable Access to Deeper Learning.”

“Rapid and dramatic change in California’s education system provided an excellent incubator for school districts to make changes to improve instructional quality and equity,” said LPI President Linda Darling-Hammond, who is also president of the State Board of Education.  “We hope that other school districts and states will focus on the lessons from these case study school districts to ensure all students have access to deeper learning regardless of the size, location and wealth of the district where they go to school.  We know it can be done.”

The Long Beach case study delves into the key factors that enable student success here:

Supporting Alignment 

The school district created systemwide cohesion by setting clear expectations, providing comprehensive support and focusing on collaboration and continuous improvement.  LBUSD’s expectations, guided by a mission to advance equity, “are clear and justified, tailored and supportive, calibrated across the district, and data-driven.” 

The school district’s research-based “Understandings Continuum” forms the foundation of its approach to instruction, training and more.  Educators here examined an aggregation of thousands of other research studies involving millions of children around the world, and identified which practices in schools seem to have the greatest impact on student achievement, Brian Moskovitz, LBUSD assistant superintendent of Elementary Schools explains in the report.

“…We have our Understandings Continuum, which we believe to be foundational practices that came from research,” Moskovitz said.  “They weren’t just developed out of thin air.”

Investing in the People

Hiring practices, professional development opportunities, a culture of collaboration, and funding decisions have helped LBUSD to make sure that students have access to talented educators and prepared principals.  Aligned with state standards, the school district’s training supports student growth and helps to retain quality teachers.  LBUSD’s “stable workforce sees many in district leadership rise through the ranks of teachers, teacher leaders and school leaders.”

Developing New Attitudes and Practices to Support Deeper Learning for All

In response to the Common Core State Standards, the school district made a long-term investment in building an instructional vision, created systems and tools, and provided ongoing training and support for schools.  LBUSD helped teachers to embrace an instructional approach that focused on problem-solving and student collaboration.  The school district introduced an initiative focused on English learners.  Linked Learning was implemented systemwide to help students pursue career paths.

Focusing on Social and Emotional Learning

The school district implemented policies and initiatives to support students’ social and emotional development.  The district’s approach was designed to help students feel more comfortable in their schools and to help them learn how to collaborate, make responsible decisions, think positively about how to handle challenges (growth mindset vs. fixed mindset), and develop effective habits such as coming to class prepared.  LBUSD also strategically engaged families and the community to support student learning.

The report on Long Beach further observed:

  • The school district’s performance on state tests between 2015 and 2017 showed strong results for its three largest racial and ethnic subgroups.  From 2015 to 2017, LBUSD’s African American, Latino/a and white students consistently outperformed students in other districts with similar economic backgrounds on California’s new state assessment.  The district’s students tend to graduate at higher rates than the average California student.
     
  • Recent student achievement gains in Long Beach “stem from the district’s intentional approach to aligning support for improvement while de-emphasizing sanctions.”
     
  • The school district has engaged in many partnerships to support its diverse student body.  Beginning in 2010, it began collaborating with other large urban California school districts to learn how to better implement state standards and to improve the training of teachers and administrators.  This group became known as the California Office to Reform Education, or “CORE Districts,” and today includes eight large urban school districts from across the state whose 56,700 educators teach more than 1 million students.
     
  • LBUSD works closely with nearby institutions of higher education to make sure it prepares its students to meet the demands of college.  For example, Cal State Long Beach, Long Beach City College and LBUSD have worked together to create better articulation between pre-kindergarten through postgraduate school for students.  To formalize this arrangement, Long Beach’s educational institutions and the City of Long Beach established the Long Beach College Promise in 2008, which was among the first college promise initiatives in the state.

LPI’s other case studies looked at the San Diego Unified, Chula Vista Elementary, Clovis Unified, Gridley Unified, Hawthorne and Sanger Unified school districts.

Commonalities among these school systems included:

  • a widely shared, well-enacted vision that prioritizes learning for every child;
  • instructionally engaged leaders;
  • strategies for hiring and retaining a strong, stable educator workforce;
  • collaborative professional learning that builds collective instructional capacity;
  • a deliberate, developmental approach to instructional change;
  • curriculum, instruction and assessment focused on deeper learning for students and adults;
  • use of evidence to inform teaching and learning in a process of continuous improvement;
  • systemic supports for students’ academic, social and emotional needs; and
  • engagement of families and communities.