Advancing Education and Opportunity for All

Effective, equitable education systems are necessary to prepare California’s children for the economy and society of the future. California historically led the nation in the quality of elementary and secondary schools and in creating a world-class system of public higher education to serve all Californians who wanted to go to college. But both systems have fallen behind. There are large racial and economic gaps in both achievement and educational attainment.

Efforts to understand and improve educational outcomes are made more difficult in California by the lack of a longitudinal student-record data system that links students across elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education, such as exists in many other states. As a result, California has often flown “data-blind” when it comes to basic information about factors influencing student achievement or the effects of various reforms.

The California Policy Lab is partnering with school districts, colleges and universities, and state education agencies to assess the impact of programs that serve our state’s most valued asset, our children. We help these partners maximize the effectiveness of the state’s education systems by better understanding their pupils and the forces at play in their lives outside the classroom. CPL helps educators and policymakers access better information that informs better policies.

Example Projects

CPL is partnering with the University of California to better understand how recent and future changes to its admissions process could impact recruitment and retention of low income students and the preparedness and diversity of newly admitted students. We evaluated a recent pilot program that asked some applicants to submit letters of recommendation from their teachers and counselors, finding that the availability of these letters led to a more diverse class of admitted students. Ongoing work will look at whether letters of recommendation are a good predictor of student performance, and seek to identify just what sort of information the letters convey.

REPORT PAGE: Letters of Recommendation at UC Berkeley

CPL is partnering with the California Student Aid Commission to investigate the impacts of simplifying notification letters sent to students who are eligible for Cal Grant Awards to help pay for college. This project will study whether clearer communications boost student take-up of the awards, increase college attendance, and alter patterns of enrollment for eligible students in  California’s public and private colleges and universities.

CPL supported a study of the impact of attending a newly-constructed school on academic outcomes and school attendance in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which invested in an enormous school construction project to address chronic overcrowding and dilapidated facilities. This research indicates that attending a newly constructed school for four years raised students’ attendance as well as their math and English test scores, enough to close nearly half of the achievement gap between LAUSD and the rest of the state in math, and 20 percent of the gap in English.

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