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Friends and colleagues:
At SRI we recognize that developing innovations to improve opportunities for learning requires a multi-faceted approach. This issue of SRI Education Notes exemplifies the diversity of topics and enterprises in which we are engaged to form our comprehensive approach to education research, evaluation, and development. From exploring ways to assess the computational thinking practices in computer science to examining how California schools are meeting students’ health service needs to improving student engagement via blended learning approaches, we are helping educators improve results for students.
Denise Glyn Borders
President, SRI Education
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Foster Youth and Early Implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula: Not Yet Making the Grade
California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013, is the first overhaul of the state’s education funding system in 40 years. It replaces previous categorical funding streams with a base level of funding for all districts and additional dollars for districts that serve low-income students, English learners, and foster youth. Under the law, districts are required to create a fiscal blueprint, called a Local Control Accountability Plan, that describes how money will be used broadly to support all students, and more specifically for the targeted subgroups.
Researchers in SRI’s Center for Education Policy aim to provide policymakers with timely information about the implementation and effectiveness of public investments in the education system. In keeping with this goal, SRI conducted the first studies of the implementation of California’s groundbreaking Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). In a recent study funded by the National Center for Youth Law, researchers from SRI Education and J. Koppich & Associates examined the LCFF as it relates to foster youth. SRI’s Dr. Daniel Humphrey presented findings at a legislative hearing on foster youth and the LCFF in March 2015.
The LCFF identifies foster youth for the first time as a distinct sub-population of underserved students who require added attention to improve their educational and social outcomes. The study found, however, that the first year of LCFF implementation resulted in little specific attention to foster youth in most districts’ plans. Foster Youth and the Early Implementation of the LCFF: Not Yet Making the Gradereveals serious gaps between the state’s intent to highlight foster youth as a target group and the state’s, counties’, and districts’ systems of support for this particularly under-performing group of students. Foster youth have the poorest educational and life outcomes of any of the target groups.
Researchers identified multiple obstacles facing educators as they try to meet the needs of foster youth. These obstacles include different definitions of foster youth eligible for California’s Foster Youth Services program and the LCFF, a lack of a comprehensive state data system and few local district data systems able to track the educational outcomes of foster youth, and inconsistent data sharing practices between districts, County Offices of Education, and Social Service agencies. Through case studies, the report highlights local strategies to improve school stability, add counseling and tutoring programs, strengthen advocacy, change school climate for foster youth, and provide relevant professional development to school staff. While districts, counties, and social service agencies have complex challenges to address, researchers believe that the next round of LCAPs and budget development is likely to bring more attention to foster youth supports and services.
Lack of School Nurses in California Puts School Children at Risk
Approximately 1.4 million school age children in California are considered to have a special health care need, which includes chronic conditions—such as allergies, heart problems, seizure disorders, or diabetes—that require nursing services. As part of a team that included professionals from Sacramento State University, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, SRI Education researchers examined how California schools are meeting health service needs during the school day. The findings of our recently completed study show that there is a lot of room for improvement.
One of the major findings was that a large population of children does not have access to minimal health services during the school day; only 43 percent of school districts reported that they employed a school nurse. So what is happening in the 57 percent of school districts without school nurses? We don’t have a definitive answer, but it is not a stretch to speculate that all children – and especially children with special health care needs– are experiencing poorer health and academic outcomes because they don’t have access to school nurses.
And what is happening in those school districts that do employ school nurses? We found very low nurse to student ratios—39 percent of districts had nurse-to-student ratios of only one nurse to 3,000 students (The nationally recommended ratio is 1 to 750). School nurses reported providing services in an average of six or more buildings. Another barrier to meeting the needs of children with special health care needs is that the school nurse may not always know who those children are. Only about half of the 446 practicing school nurses surveyed in the study reported knowing which students had special health needs.
While the most obvious recommendation would be to call for more school nurses in California, policy makers say that it is unlikely. The school nurse positions were eliminated over many years of budget cuts by education leaders who had to make difficult choices. At this point, there seems to be little political will to reverse the damage that has been done because of the significant cost implications. With that in mind, the research team recommends increasing data collection of children with special health care needs so that school districts and personnel can better understand these needs, as well as the establishment of state standards for who can perform medical procedures in schools. To learn more, check out SRI Researcher Dr. Kathleen Hebbeler’s blog post.
New Ed Tech Developer’s Guide Outlines Path for Developing Digital Tools and Apps that Address Critical Educational Needs
Significant strides have been made in leveraging technology for learning in today’s K-12 schools, from increased access to the Internet through President Obama’s ConnectED initiative to the availability of more affordable tools and devices, to rich digital content for more engaging learning experiences. Yet there are still a number of unmet needs in education that technology could help to solve. With this in mind, the Office of Educational Technology has released the Ed Tech Developer’s Guide to help software developers, start-ups, and entrepreneurs create digital tools to address challenges faced by teachers, school leaders, students and their families. Read our full blog post to learn more. The Guide was developed in part by SRI Education’s Center for Technology in Learning, with significant contributions from experts in the field.
Blended Learning Research
SRI Education was recently featured in the EdWeek Digital Directionsarticle, Blended Learning Research: The Seven Studies You Need to Know. Of the seven studies, #1 and #3 were conducted by SRI Education: the “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies,” funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and the “Blended Learning Report,” from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The first study is referred to as “the granddaddy of blended learning studies and the one most commonly cited when it comes to such programs.” The Dell Foundation report examined teacher satisfaction, student productivity, and the use of data to inform instruction at 13 low-income charter schools that used a rotation model of blended learning, which is particularly relevant given the current popularity of introducing blended learning in low-income schools.
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