Written by Patricia Hawke for

A large part of the country’s education systems have long looked to California Schools to demonstrate what works in education.  While many California Public Schools  are indeed exemplary, there are also many that are struggling.  In 1999, the state of California decided that it needed to take a closer look at these struggling schools, and that these California Schools needed help to overcome their problems. 
The California Schools in question shared one common characteristic - a relatively high level of student poverty. Many but not all of them have high percentages of students who were English learners and/or Hispanic, a statistic that has been correlated with student poverty. Most have very small populations of white students.
These troubled California Schools tended to be larger than average and were much more likely to be on a multitrack, year-round calendar. This type of school calendar allows the school in question to serve a greater number of students by being open all 12 months of the year; with some California Schools teachers and classes sharing rooms with those who are off on a break.
In terms of staffing, these California Schools had a much higher proportion of teachers not fully credentialed and were also more likely to have a high percentage of first- and second-year teachers.
Principals of the California Schools in question were surveyed to determine the differences in the challenges faced by their particular schools.  School district officials were also able to provide more information.
California has operated its school accountability system for nine years now and the average API (Academic Performance Index) scores for all schools have risen. Elementary schools have shown the most progress. However, as a whole, elementary level California Schools have faced greater challenges than their middle- and high-school counterparts.
On average, they had either similar or more challenging proportions of English learners
and students living in poverty. School sizes are modestly large and the proportion of fully credentialed teachers is somewhat lower than middle- and high-school teachers working in California Schools.
Conversely, California Schools in the middle and high school levels have consistently shown less improvement than elementary schools. From a statistical perspective, secondary California Schools often face different challenges than elementary schools do in attempting to meet their API growth targets.
Middle Schools have not had the full benefit of the state’s investment in K–12 education since the mid-to-late 1990s, however. From an instructional perspective, the state has put more focus on improving achievement in the earliest grades, most likely with the belief that if a student’s academic success can be improved upon at an early age, they will continue to be successful throughout their school careers.
While there many changes that need to be made to improve the quality of California Schools, it is indeed heartening to see that the state’s board of education is up to the challenge of helping schools make the improvements needed to produce successful and vital members of tomorrow’s society.
Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. For more information please visit California Public Schools