CCEE partnerships in action (Part 2): Better serving foster youth and African American students

The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a key agency in the state’s System of Support, hosted its inaugural public event on Nov. 14 in downtown Sacramento. “Equity in Action: A Real-Time Look at What’s Working in California Schools” featured work being done in partnership with county offices of education and districts around the state to create more equitable educational outcomes for three underserved student groups: English learners, foster youth and African American students.

The second of a two-part overview of the CCEE event and these partnerships focuses on foster youth and African American students.

Building thoughtful district-level systems for foster youth
On average, foster youth change schools eight times while in the child welfare system and lose up to six months of instructional time with each move. Foster youth also have one of the lowest graduation rates in the state at just 51 percent, and 83 percent of this student population is retained by third grade. Many foster youths are dealing with significant trauma and school can often be the one stabilizing force in their lives. The CCEE partnered with the nonprofit Alliance for Children’s Rights and six school districts in east Los Angeles County to establish a professional learning network focused on dismantling institutional barriers for foster youth in schools.

Panelists at the event emphasized the importance of communication and letting all stakeholders —especially students — know about school-of-origin rights, a law enshrined in the Every Student Succeeds Act mandating that local educational and child welfare agencies collaborate to create transportation plans so that foster students can return to their “school of origin” if that is in their best interest. Betty Sodir, program specialist with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, said it’s also essential that schools keep accurate records and an open line of communication with child welfare agencies so that if students are transferred to a new school, they are able to be enrolled quickly and placed into relevant classes.

Other issues the PLN is pursuing are partial credits and alternative school settings. Too often, foster youths who are highly mobile do not have the chance to finish out a year or even a semester at the same school. If the students are not given partial credit for classes, they accumulate a deficit of coursework that might lead to them being placed in an alternative school setting. Mark Rodgers, senior director of specialized student services with the Bonita Unified School District, said that partial credits can help to mitigate a lack of school stability and help foster youth to graduate on time. Multiple panelists said that strong district policies regarding partial credits for highly mobile student populations and well-trained staff to enact these policies are essential to helping the system work for foster youth.

Over the last two years, participating districts have seen improvements in their foster students’ outcomes. Azusa USD increased its foster youth graduation rate from 29 percent to 83 percent and saw 100 percent of its foster youth earn partial credits. Pomona USD reduced the percentage of foster youth enrolled in alternative schools from 57 percent to 2 percent over the course of just one year after redesigning its enrollment practices and creating a credit recovery system at its comprehensive high schools.
Over the next year, the network will focus on disseminating its learnings, tools and strategies in a shareable resource.

CSBA resources:

Identifying and dismantling barriers to African American student achievement
African American students make up the lowest performing ethnic group in California public schools. Smarter Balanced test results for 2018–19 show just 33 percent of African American students met or exceeded standards in English language arts and just 20.5 percent met or exceeded standards in math. The CCEE partnered with the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators to form a professional learning network focusing on identifying the causes of inequities experienced by African American students and share best practices that are leading to better outcomes.

The network, comprising four school districts and two county offices of education from across the state, identified some of the root causes of African American student achievement gaps, including attending schools with more unqualified teachers, external and internal politics, racial bias, and a lack of site and district leadership and system accountability. Through research and evidence-based practices, local educational agencies in the network began to pursue changes in policy and practice to help close opportunity and achievement gaps. Each member of the network focused on a different problem of practice to explore how their LEA could better support African American students. Topics ranged from data identification to early warning processes and culturally responsive learning environments to targeted literacy solutions.

In one example, Fresno USD invested in an academic achievement initiative to boost early literacy for its African American students. The five-week summer program engaged African American teachers and used culturally relevant materials. Students who participated in the program advanced one or more reading levels and the program is scheduled to expand to include a midyear weekend literacy group. At Pittsburg USD, early warning indicators are being used to identify students in a cohort of third-grade African American boys. Local and state assessments to monitor if interventions are working. Based on the district benchmark data, 55 percent of students identified through the system at the beginning of the school year demonstrated significant academic growth by the end of the year.

Other districts have also focused on professional development in cultural proficiency and trauma-informed practices, as well as collaboration with local and community agencies. The network created a summary report of its findings, including 13 recommendations.

CSBA resources: