Separate Paths, Common Goals: Cross-District Collaboration on Mathematics and English Learner Instruction (Special Series on the Fresno–Long Beach Learning Partnership)

Helen Duffy, Jim Brown, Stephanie Hannan, and Jennifer O'Day

Across the country, resource-strapped school districts are looking for opportunities to work strategically with other districts to increase efficiencies and learn from each other’s experiences. The Fresno-Long Beach Learning Partnership, established in 2008, serves as a useful example of such collaboration. This brief explores two specific areas of focus for the Partnership—mathematics and English Language Learners. Both of these areas provide insights for other jurisdictions considering similar cross-system efforts.

The overarching goal of the Partnership is to graduate students prepared for success in higher education or for a career with significant growth potential. Drawing on interviews with district leaders as well as focus groups with coaches, specialists and principals, this brief describes the Partnership’s work in two of the four areas that the districts selected as key leverage points for district action. One of these areas focuses on a particular part of the schools’ curriculum—mathematics. Both districts’ analysis of student achievement data confirmed that many students were not succeeding in Algebra I, a gate-keeping course for higher-level mathematics as well as for other college preparatory courses. Working together to improve preparation for and success in algebra made immediate sense. Additionally, both districts struggled to move large numbers of ELs out of English language development (ELD) courses and into academic classes that would prepare them for a broader range of postsecondary options. For this reason, improving outcomes for the approximately 25 percent of students designated as ELs in each district was also a high priority and potential source of mutual learning and progress.