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Free Fall: Educational Opportunities in 2011

John Rogers, Melanie Bertrand, Rhoda Freelon, Sophie Fanelli

March 2011

EOR-STATE-2011-image For several years, UCLA IDEA, in partnership with UC/ACCORD, has produced an annual report on the learning conditions and educational outcomes across California public schools. In last year’s report, we highlighted how the “great recession” created new challenges for California’s already weakened educational infrastructure.  Now, the challenges California faces are worse.

High unemployment and decreased public education spending have moved California into unchartered territory.  How are public schools coping with falling public investment in education?  Have cuts affected the quality and distribution of educational opportunities?  How do new school conditions affect student engagement, learning, and progress to graduation and college enrollment? 

The 2011 Educational Opportunity Report draws on information gathered from California high school principals to address these questions. We surveyed 277 high school principals—almost a quarter of California’s high schools—about learning conditions in their schools.  We also conducted follow-up interviews with a representative sample of 78 of these principals, to explore the effects of changing conditions on California’s students.

Core findings from our surveys and interviews include:

  • California high schools are providing less time, attention, and quality programs. As a consequence, student engagement, achievement and progress to graduation and college are suffering.
  • School reform has all but sputtered to a halt due to staff cutbacks and the elimination of time for professional development.
  • Even as high schools across the state are impacted by declining budgets, inequality is growing across and within schools.
  • California’s high schools face growing demands from families experiencing economic crisis that point to the inter-relationship of California’s education and social welfare budgets.



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