CSU launches initiative to study high-performing schools in disadvantaged areas

The California State University (CSU) and business owners statewide have undertaken the task of reforming the California K-12 public school system by gathering data and practices from high-performing schools that reside in impoverished neighborhoods to help other schools in the state and educate new student teachers on the best procedures for the classroom.

“The Chancellor and the business leaders decided that they would join efforts to begin procedures of identifying the highest performing, highest poverty schools and school districts throughout California and connecting their campus and their colleges of education to them,” said Dr. James S. Lanich, director of the CSU’s Center to Close the Achievement Gap.

Lanich said it’s a partnership that includes the CSU and the California Business for Education Excellence (CBEE), a group that includes Bank of America, State Farm, Verizon, AT&T and Wells Fargo.

“The investigation, led by CSU faculty and the business community, has designed a data system with which to identify the school,” Lanich said.

Lanich added all the data that is being gathered and reviewed can be found at the Education Results Partnership website.

“We use the grade level proficiency levels, early assessment program and the California high school exit exam, et cetera. We use all the standardized testing that is available,” Lanich said about the data gathered.

Michael Spagna, dean of CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education, said this new program is unique.

“One of the of the big ways of this serving as an innovative            groups is that instead of turning to universities and saying ‘Ok just tell us what we need to do’, we are working in partnership with universities to really turn the telescope around, if you will, to study our own backyards,” Spagna said.

He said they are looking for specific areas that include “pockets of excellence” in the K-12 public school system.

“It is very different than what we typically do in the United States in public education. What we typically do is we produce some idea or philosophy and we study it, we see whether it work with a group of kids and then we spread it all over the country,” Spagna said.

Spagna said the CSU is studying all aspects of successful public schools, right down to the custodians and janitors.

“Then (we) facilitate that conversation and learn from teachers and parents and principals and custodians at that school and find out what is their story; what are the unique facets of what they do there,” Spagna said.

He said these processes are then brought back to the university to help future teachers.

“Our focus is on finding the most challenged environments that are litigating the barriers that kids often bring; English language problems, high levels of special education, socio-economically disadvantaged. We only work with high levels of challenged populations but yet are outperforming everybody else,” Lanich said.

It would be a process of continual adjustment of how new teachers are being prepared in the CSUs Lanich said, adding that student teachers would be placed in the higher performing public school to observe and learn the best practices.

“As we continue to build a pipeline of people that are professionals going to school as teachers, school counselor or administrators, they have the benefit of learning what is going on out in the field,” Spagna said.

He said this partnership breaks down some of the beliefs of changing the current state of education.

“The whole goal is that by doing this, you’re going to explode some of the myth that you can’t make a difference in some of these inner city schools because you can actually see with the data that it is being done,” Spagna said. “We must capture how it’s being done.”

Spagna said Cal States Fresno, Long Beach and San Diego were chosen as lead campuses because these areas have schools that are exceeding expectations.

“That’s not to say we don’t have it within our area. We have some incredible stuff going on in L.A Unified District. The difference is, in those three other areas, they have entire school districts that have had turnaround,” Spagna said.

Spagna said by being a partner, CSUN will use the data and practices found by their colleagues and help schools in the surrounding area.

Kurt Clark, president of CBEE, said there has always been a partnership between the Education Results Partnership and the CBEE in terms of where the students are having the best results.

“It has grown out of this partnership. The idea was identifying the highest performing environment, particularly high poverty across the state, and to be able to connect those schools with their college of education. It seemed like a natural fit and progression in terms of the work,” Clark said.

Clark said the business community has taken an active role in connection with the faculty of the CSU’s.

Clark added while reports often say the state of education is dwindling there are still schools in disadvantaged areas that are performing well.

“Our role in this is to elevate their voice so that other can learn from what they’re doing,” Clark said.

Spagna added the program is still in the experimental phase.

“We’re probably are not that far out. I would say (we’re) six months out from being able to have this system perfected where we can then go ahead and apply it right here in our backyard here in LA,” Spagna said.

Lanich said he believes this partnership between the CSU and public school will continue even after all the data is gathered.

“It’s an ongoing process, connecting teachers in preparation programs to other teachers who are experiencing success with kids who have been historically disadvantaged. It probably never has an end point,” Lanich said.