LBUSD Among 5 Top Systems Worldwide

“It isn’t just about test scores. Grit. Perseverance. Curiosity. Self control. The one thing that separates extraordinary from ordinary is always that ‘doing.’ It is not the ‘knowing.’ It is in the ‘doing’ component.” – Jim Mahoney, executive director of Battelle for Kids, in a video describing five of the world’s high-performing school districts.

An international study includes the Long Beach Unified School District among five of the world’s highest performing school systems.

The recent “Global Education Study” is a publication of the national non-profit Battelle for Kids organization. The Ohio-based group provides a wide array of school improvement services to educators nationwide.

“We define a high-performing system as one in which low-performing students perform not much differently than top-performing students, and where family socioeconomic status is not a significant driver of student performance,” the study states. “High-performing systems are in the top ranks on quality, equity, and productivity and recognize the importance of international benchmarking. Ultimately, we choose Finland; Hong Kong; Long Beach, California; Ontario, Canada; and Singapore from a larger list of high-performing systems.”

Among that “larger list” were 20 school systems whose student achievement results were examined in an exhaustive 2010 study by McKinsey & Company, a trusted advisor and provider of data to many of the most influential businesses and institutions in the world. For the latest study, Battelle officials visited school districts before publishing their findings on educators’ best practices.

“We’re honored and grateful to be in the company of some of the world’s leading school systems again,” said LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser. “As this study explains, we work hard to provide all students a good education regardless of the hurdles they face. We accomplish this work through a collaborative effort involving our employees, parents, higher education partners and the larger community. We thank everyone who contributes to these important efforts.”

The study found six common drivers leading to student success: early learning; personalization and pathways for success; teacher selectivity, quality and growth; focus on learning; education linked to economic development; and cultural expectation of value.

Long Beach, for instance, implements a pathways program, the report states. As the second-busiest port in the U.S., and with its proximity to Los Angeles, the Long Beach Port Authority is a significant jobs creator for the area. From truck drivers to aerospace specialists, the port requires skilled workers to drive the business engine for the region. Long Beach’s high school pathway programs are closely tied to the needs of business through advisory boards that ensure instruction in the pathways includes elements required for graduates to be ready to enter the workforce. Campuses are organized by the pathways, and students identify themselves with future career options by the time they are sophomores.

The report also praised the quality of Long Beach’s teachers and the professional development they receive.

“Long Beach teachers are comfortable sharing best practices with their colleagues and asking for help. Teachers are invested in the district (70 percent live within the district), and the district invests in them by providing systematic and in-depth professional development.

“Long Beach uses two other approaches that have policy and practice efficacy. First, the district works collaboratively with a regional higher education partner to ‘manage’ the quality of novice and master teachers employed by the district. The district is closely tied to California State University, Long Beach. Many Long Beach employees teach pre-service courses at the college, grooming teachers for ‘The Long Beach Way’ prior to their work in the district. This intentional approach to preparation and selection begins to build a consistent set of approaches and behaviors across the district.

“Second, Long Beach relies heavily on ‘in-house’ rather than vendor professional development, with highly skilled instructional coaches assessing and informing the classroom instruction of peers. An important element of this approach is a common language for professional learning for principals and teachers. Additionally, the culture of high expectations is followed through at all levels. For example, the district has no 'terminal' assistant principal positions. Staff promoted to assistant principalships are expected to learn and grow into the principal position within a set timeframe. If they do not, these staff move to another career path.”

The report says good test results are a byproduct of helping students own and master their own learning.

“This is one of the reasons why as part of ‘The Long Beach Way,’ students help set their own learning goals and performance targets. As a part of this approach, each student receives a combination of large group, small group, and individualized instruction – including coaching and intervention whenever needed. With a large population of immigrant students from Latin America, each classroom welcomes new students and integrates their learning throughout the year. Instead of being a disruption, new students receive wraparound intervention services immediately, so that they can become accustomed socially and academically while they learn a new language. Another approach Long Beach uses is common learning tools across grades. For example, elementary and high school students alike use ‘thinking maps’ to organize their writing.”

Long Beach can remain focused on student support because of the relative continuity of leadership across the district, the report states.

“Additionally, despite a high amount of (student) mobility, including new English Language Learners across many classrooms, every student is expected to perform. From an early age, students select their desired college, major and career. In all classrooms, the students’ self-expressed, personal high expectations are posted on the walls, as a reminder that everyone can and will go far in life. To support that performance, state standards are also posted, along with the path for meeting and exceeding them.”

In a section on “Cultural Expectation of Value,” the report finds common threads of success in Long Beach and Ontario, Canada:

“Ontario and Long Beach face a more turbulent financial climate. But they have kept mission over money as the driving force behind most of their decisions.”

Learn more about Battelle for Kids.