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School Resources and Academic Standards in California: Lessons from the Schoolhouse

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Abstract:

This report takes an in-depth look at a sample group of 49 schools in California to understand at a grassroots level the issues and problems of implementing academic standards, now a fact of life in the state for a decade. California faces particular challenges because it has more public school students than any other state, and has set its standards higher than any other state’s. Through in-depth interviews with school district superintendents and a survey of teachers, the authors found general support—mixed with relief, anxiety, and in some cases, grudging assent—and many suggestions for how standards might be implemented more efficiently and more equitably. School district superintendents were generally strongly supportive of the new standards-based regimen. A survey of more than 2,000 teachers also found general support, but also more ambivalence. Twelve percent of teachers considered the state’s standards too ambitious and therefore unachievable, while 39 percent characterized them as very difficult to achieve. The authors' financial analysis tends to confirm earlier findings that although the goals California has set for student achievement are high, the resources being provided to meet those goals are not.