“We don’t really have the expertise on site so we rely on working with other small school districts and the curriculum department at our [county] office of education.”
-Rural School Leader
Over the past two years , with generous support from the S.H. Cowell and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Pivot Learning has supported and collaborated with twenty-one rural districts and counties in Northern California to create the Rural Professional Learning Network (RPLN). Through an iterative design process, the RPLN has joined forces to overcome unique challenges due to their limited budgets and remote locations and effectively implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards.
Pivot partnered with Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), an independent, nonpartisan research center at Stanford University, to conduct research and present findings on the current challenges facing rural districts in California. The research was lead by Dr. Thomas Timar, an expert in education finance, policy, and governance, director of the UC Davis Center for Applied Policy in Education (CAP-Ed), and member of the PACE steering committee. In the report, “Surprising Strengths and Substantial Needs: Rural District Implementation of Common Core State Standards”, Dr. Timar and his colleagues found that “If small rural districts are to succeed in meaningful, deep implementation of CCSS, the state, COEs and other support providers must provide small and rural districts with access to relevant exemplars of systemic standards implementation.”
Based on research collected from RPLN’s first year, recommendations on how to better support rural districts included:
1) Encouraging rural districts and schools to think strategically and effectively about time management and resources.
2) Providing ongoing resources to small and rural districts to support professional development according to diverse teacher and student needs, innovative delivery methods, and effective, measurable impact.
3) Redefining the State and Local Role for Instructional and Curricular Support with specific consideration to the needs of small and rural districts.
Pivot and PACE are continuing to collaborate on this work, with the addition of El Dorado County into the RPLN. Additionally, Pivot is working with the Collaboration in Common platform to support the sharing of tools, resources, and supports between districts and between different networks.
The RPLN seeks to alleviate local capacity and statewide infrastructure issues within rural districts by leveraging both in-person meetings and virtual collaboration tools. As part of this network, education leaders identify their core implementation challenges (problems of practice or PoPs). The larger network works collaboratively to develop and share solutions for these challenges. Through this model, counties and districts identify, employ, and disseminate best practices in CCSS.
Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) is an independent, non-partisan research center based at Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and the University of California, Davis. PACE seeks to define and sustain a long-term strategy for comprehensive policy reform and continuous improvement in performance at all levels of California’s education system, from early childhood to post-secondary education and training. PACE bridges the gap between research and policy, working with scholars from California’s leading universities and with state and local policymakers to increase the impact of academic research on educational policy in California. For more information, see edpolicyinca.org.
PIVOT LEARNING ACQUIRES CONSORTIUM ON REACHING EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION, INC. (CORE) THROUGH A GENEROUS GIFT FROM OWNERS
Oakland, CA – On May 22, 2017, the Pivot Learning Board of Directors approved the acquisition of the Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education, Inc. (CORE) through a generous gift from the founder and owner Bill Honig, as well as owners Catherine Honig and Linda Diamond. This gift brings together two of the longest tenured and most respected education service providers to districts and schools in California and the nation.
Over the past 23 years, Pivot Learning has become the largest and most experienced non-profit technical assistance provider for school districts in California. Pivot’s mission is to revitalize our public school systems so that all students have the opportunity to succeed in college and career. Pivot works at the state, district, and school levels to develop systemic solutions in the areas of standards implementation, education finance, leadership development, and school redesign.
CORE is a national professional learning organization that has been serving schools, districts, and states for 23 years. CORE applies the research on best practices and effective adult learning principles to equip educators with the knowledge and skills to significantly improve academic achievement. Through targeted professional development, job-embedded coaching, principal mentorship, and careful selection of curriculum and assessments, CORE collaborates with school systems to implement high quality reading, writing, language, and math instruction PreK-12.
CORE will become a subsidiary of Pivot Learning and its CEO, Dr. Arun Ramanathan, will serve as Chairman of the CORE Board of Directors. Linda Diamond will serve as President of CORE. Pivot and CORE will continue to deliver their respective services and will work together to implement comprehensive solutions that take advantage of the unique strengths of each organization.
“CORE’s decades-long history of providing quality professional learning services to classroom teachers is a natural complement to Pivot’s long history of working in partnership with district and school leaders to transform education systems,” said Diamond. “We are thrilled by this new phase in our proud history.”
Said Ramanathan, “We are grateful to CORE’s owners for this generous gift. Together, Pivot Learning and CORE can better support schools and districts across California and nationally to achieve our mission of ensuring that all students graduate college and career ready.”
The goal of Beyond High School is to transform the secondary experience to provide equitable access for all students to career-themed “pathways” or “academies” in areas such as computer science, healthcare, tourism, and agriculture. The model is based on the four pillars of the research-based Linked Learning approach – rigorous academics, career technical training, work-based learning, and personalized student supports. SRI International’s recently released seven-year evaluation of Linked Learning in nine California districts found decreased dropout rates, higher graduation rates, and more credits earned for students in linked learning pathways. The Beyond High School program is led by Dr. Laura Flaxman, founder of the nationally renowned Life Academy High School in Oakland, California.
“Our team of secondary experts has deep experience in redesigning schools and Linked Learning,” said Dr. Flaxman. “We are thrilled to be launching this important and innovative initiative as a proof point on how to rethink secondary education in California and the nation.”
Beyond High School has several key features. First, districts are supported by Pivot experts through a change design process. “Design teams” of district leaders, teachers, students, parents, community members, industry partners, and community college leaders plan, develop, and prototype their model for secondary redesign. In two of the districts, Bonsall and Monterey Peninsula Unified School Districts the teams are redesigning their full secondary pathways from 6-12. In Oceanside Unified School District, the team is redesigning one of their large comprehensive high schools: Oceanside High School.
“We are excited to partner with Pivot to ensure that all of our students are successful both in and beyond high school,” Reggie Thompkins, Deputy Superintendent, Oceanside Unified School District noted.
Pivot is also partnering with the Linked Learning Alliance to implement two new technology tools in all three districts. The first, Linked Learning Analytics, analyses vital student data allowing districts and community members to assess the impact of their redesigned secondary pathways on student outcomes. The second, Linked Learning Certification, provides the districts and school leaders with an intuitive online mechanism to officially certify their schools as Linked Learning Pathways. Pivot is also partnering with Abl and School by Design to pilot tools to transform the use of time, including tools to streamline and facilitate the master scheduling.
California educators know that curriculum and instructional materials can have a large impact on what and how well students learn. Quality instructional materials must be aligned to national and California content standards and meet the specific needs of districts and charters.
In Pivot’s work with dozens of districts throughout California, we have found that teachers and leaders are working hard to identify quality, relevant curriculum. One teacher in our Rural Professional Learning Network (RPLN) noted that her district hasn’t yet selected Common Core-aligned materials, “so teachers piece together old curriculum (10-15 years old) and online resources.” This struggle isn’t limited to Pivot’s partners. In a 2015 report, Morgan Polikoff, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Southern California, reported that only about 50% of schools in California have adopted at least one CCSS-aligned math textbook.
Because of the large number of state approved materials, California districts have often been challenged to identify the materials that are best aligned to the Math and English Language Arts content standards. Throughout the curriculum adoption process, districts can benefit from objective, detailed reviews of state approved curriculum. Outside reviews can provide comprehensive information about the quality and alignment of instructional materials so that district leaders can make the best choice for their teachers and students.
The California Curriculum Collaborative, an initiative of Pivot Learning and EdReports.org, provides the rigorous independent reviews that districts and charter schools need. Using the independent information provided in EdReports.org, the CCC is designed to help districts and charters navigate the curriculum adoption process in California. The CCC also includes reviews of programs not included on California’s adopted programs list. Indeed, California allows districts to use off-list curricular materials (not on the state-approved list), and Dr. Polikoff found that more districts and charters are adopting off-list textbooks since the introduction of CCSS.
This spring, Pivot Learning and EdReports.org will host workshops to introduce districts to the California Curriculum Collaborative, including best practices in the adoption process and tools designed to support districts in making the right choices for their students. We hope to build informed collaboration across districts in California and bring clarity to the very important task of choosing an appropriate instructional program.
Curriculum can help drive or inhibit teaching and learning. With the right process that prioritizes high-quality, aligned materials and strong community engagement, districts and schools will be able to ensure that students have the materials they need to succeed.
Polikoff, M.S. (2015). How well aligned are textbooks to the Common Core standards in mathematics? American Educational Research Journal, 52(6), 1185–1211. doi: 10.3102/0002831215584435
Polikoff, M.S. (2016, December 9). Textbook adoption in California: Issues and evidence. [Presentation]. Retrieved from
Oakland, CA – Today, February 7th, 2017, Pivot Learning, an Oakland-based nonprofit supporting dozens of CA school districts to improve college and career readiness, launched the California Curriculum Collaborative in partnership with EdReports.org, a national nonprofit providing rigorous evidence-based reviews of K-12 instructional materials. Calcurriculum.org offers free independent analysis of K-12 Math and English Language Arts materials from national publishers as well as best practices for curriculum adoption.
California districts go through a time-consuming process of researching and adopting instructional materials in accordance with California standards. With the state having approved a large number of math and ELA curriculum products, districts, particularly small districts may be challenged to pick the ones that are best aligned with content standards. The California Curriculum Collaborative provides districts with crucial tools to support and potentially streamline their decision-making, including:
Reviews of many of the math and ELA programs adopted by the state of California
Reviews of curricular materials not yet adopted by the State of California, which districts can select by going “off-list”
Resources to support the process of curriculum adoption in school districts in California and beyond
Reviews on the CCC website has already proven to be valuable to educators across California.
“As a California high school math teacher of 15 years, I know the critical importance of having the right materials in teachers’ and students’ hands,” commented Carolyn Viss, a California high school math teacher of 15 years and current Director, Stanislaus County Office of Education. “…I see schools and districts grapple with the challenge of evaluating dozens of instructional materials to find high quality curricula. It is no small task. [These reviews] help to meet the growing demand from counties, districts, schools, and teachers for the thoughtful analysis contained in these reports.”
This spring, Pivot Learning and EdReports will host a series of regional workshops across the state where districts will be guided through the tools and process crucial to a high quality, rigorous curriculum adoption. These hands-on sessions will help districts in California strategize the most beneficial way to select instructional programs based on the individual needs of their districts. With the right process and tools, and strong community engagement, districts will be able to select instructional programs and materials that are high-quality and standards-aligned.
“California requires…materials that challenge our most proficient learners and ensure every student attains college, career, and civics readiness,” remarked Karin Foster, Language and Literacy Coordinator, Orange County Office of Education. She continued, “[The California Curriculum Collective’s] detailed reports allow teachers and district leaders to focus their attention on the needs of their students and find those materials that will help their students excel.”
Sacramento, CA – On Friday, January 27, 2017, Pivot Learning, an Oakland based non-profit, presented the first-year results of the California Smarter School Spending initiative at the annual Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) Research and Policy Conference. The Smarter School Spending model is an innovative approach to district budgeting that helps districts and charters to build strategic finance plans, find the money necessary to support their students and teachers and create more meaningful Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs).
Pivot CEO Arun Ramanathan, Ed.D. participated in a panel with district leaders Stefanie Phillips, Superintendent of Santa Ana Unified School District, and Myong Leigh, Interim Superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District, both of whom use the Smarter School Spending approach, to talk about the model and its benefits. Last year, Pivot partnered with five districts in California—Santa Ana Unified, San Francisco Unified, Tracy Unified, Pomona Unified, and Hayward Unified—on the Smarter School Spending initiative.
Using the Smarter School Spending process, Pivot and the districts identified almost $9M in potential cost savings to meet instructional goals. Tracy Unified alone located $2.1 of new revenue to potentially support their commitment to improving early literacy and ensuring 9th grade success, which are their key priorities to impact student achievement.
Brian Stephens, Ed.D., Superintendent of Tracy Unified, believes the Smarter School Spending process is vital to mobilizing districts to carry the work through from concept to program implementation. Dr. Stephens states, “Even if this work were to end tomorrow, the fundamental way we work together as a district has changed, and this collaboration will be felt for years to come.”
While California districts have received budget increases over the past several years, Governor Jerry Brown recently announcing a modest 2.2% budget increase for California public schools for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Given the slowing rate of revenue increases, increased costs for pensions and other obligations and impacts of declining enrollment, many school districts are facing budgetary challenges that complicate their efforts to the fund services and supports necessary to close opportunity and achievement gaps.
“The Smarter School Spending process helps districts turn around the impact of “initiative overload,” narrow their priorities and look inside their budgets for the funding necessary to support their instructional priorities,” said Dr. Ramanathan. “We believe that Smarter Spending should be a way that every district thinks about developing their budget and LCAP.”
Mid-July is approaching, and for Pivot that means the California School Boards Association (CSBA) Summer Leadership Institute is here. Members of our team, Dr. Arun Ramanathan, Carla Hulce, and Deborah Sims, will be heading to Sacramento July 15th-16th to team up with Lauren Weisskirk from EdReports.org, Mt. Diablo Unified School District superintendent, Dr. Nellie Meyer, and San Juan Unified Board President, Pam Costa, on a series of workshops at the CSBA summer institute entitled: Getting It Right for Kids: How School Board Members Can Support the Successful Implementation of California’s New Standards.
Pivot’s partnership with the CSBA for the Summer Leadership Institute is a unique and exciting opportunity for hundreds of school board members from districts across California. Over the two days, Pivot will present them with information on best practices in Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards implementation in three key areas: assessments, professional development and curriculum adoption. Participants will have a chance to work through myths and facts in standards implementation and assessment. They will learn about best practices in 21st century professional development from Dr. Nellie Meyer, Carla Hulce, and Pam Costa. They will be exposed to the work of EdReports.org and its powerful, timely reviews of curriculum. After these workshops, board members are sure to walk away with great new ideas in supporting their districts’ efforts to implement the standards, support teachers and improve student outcomes.
For more information about the event, please visit the CSBA website.
Following a closed session performance evaluation of CCEE staff, Executive Director Dr. Carl Cohn gave a progress report in which he shared details of his site visits to various California districts and charters, meetings with advocacy groups, and a Gates Foundation Leadership retreat. The board held a short but lively discussion about the role of the CCEE board and CCEE staff with the general consensus that board members set policy and direction and the staff implement, but that the board desires a more active role or more frequent engagement. The board also discussed the potential impact of SB-871. Next, Josh Daniels, Director of Outreach and Communications for the CCEE, presented on his site visits to county offices across California. He shared that the board reached out to all fifty-eight counties and followed up with site visits to twenty-seven interested COEs. Site visits to another thirteen county offices have been scheduled. Sujie Shin, Director of Research and Assessment, gave a report — in which she referenced working with Pivot Learning as a partner and acknowledged the Rural Professional Learning Network. The Directors of Education also spoke. After a brief break, the board heard public comment on all presentations.
Following board approval of the proposed preliminary CCEE budget for fiscal year 2016-17, Casey Schutte, Director of FosterEd, gave a presentation on Foster Youth education. California is the first state to include foster youth as a subgroup in its educational accountability framework. Schutte stressed the key role that LEA LCAPs play in planning academic and socioemotional supports for foster youth. He also noted missteps in implementation, such as the use of supplemental and concentration funds for broad actions and goals not targeted for foster youth, and unique challenges that LEAs face with regard to foster youth (e.g. movement between foster homes corresponding with movement between schools and districts.)
Schutte’s presentation focused on the significant achievement gap for foster youth, as well as the importance of trauma-informed practice to address factors in foster youth outcomes, such as the trauma that brings youth into the system, abuse, homelessness, and poverty rates. At the close of his presentation, Schutte invited comment and shared resources, including the Alliance for Children’s Rights’ Foster Youth Toolkit and the Coalition for Educational Equity for Foster Youth’s Sample District LCAP for Foster Youth.
After Mr. Schutte’s report, the board heard general public comment and closed with announcement of board chair Sandy Thorstenson’s retirement from Whittier Unified School District and the CCEE board.