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Silicon Valley Likes Long Beach Schools

The nonprofit Silicon Valley Education Foundation, a think tank devoted to raising student achievement statewide, likes what it sees in the Long Beach Unified School District, including stable leadership and the sophisticated use of data to improve instruction.

The foundation’s Thoughts On Public Education online forum, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, includes two recent articles praising Long Beach schools for their “consistent and impressive progress.”

The first article, “Lessons from High-Performing Districts,” says that Long Beach and other successful districts “have progressed by focusing inward, ignoring fads and avoiding controversies, board infighting, and labor strife that have beset large districts.”

Significant numbers of English learners and minority students are becoming proficient on state tests in Long Beach and a handful of other districts, observes education writer John Fensterwald.

What is working for these successful districts?

“Number one, using student data to inform instruction,” writes Fensterwald, adding that “Long Beach has built a powerful student data system, LROIX (Long Beach Research Office Internet), that tracks students’ progress and teachers’ impact on students.”

Also common to successful school districts is the longevity and tenacity of their leadership.  Superintendents in these districts “are not your turnaround specialists brought in to bust heads and leave,” Fensterwald notes.  Many of these superintendents have spent their careers in their districts.

“They intimately know their communities and have built trust over time with their teachers and board trustees.  Because they’re in for the long haul, they can build systems that work,” Fensterwald adds.  “Some of the superintendents may be low-key, but they’re not pushovers.”

A second article by Fensterwald, “Districts Show the Way in Using Data,” says that in Sacramento, the partially completed statewide student data system, CALPADS, has become mired in a power struggle over the management and oversight of the system.

“But in Fresno, Long Beach, and San Jose, districts aren’t waiting around for the state to finish a colossus.  They and a few well-run charter organizations have built their own data systems that are doing what CALPADS, as currently designed, won’t provide: fast and ready information to guide teachers’ decisions in the classroom and administrators’ judgments in working with teachers,” Fensterwald states.  “These systems are models for other districts, and they should steer the Legislature and governor as they consider what’s next for CALPADS.”

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Ed-Trust West, puts it more bluntly in the article:

“Innovation is reflected in districts in California but not in Sacramento.”

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