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Back-to-school reads: The 6 most popular articles we published this summer about the state of Los Angeles schools

LA School Report | August 21, 2019

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With students back in the classroom and LAUSD officials back in action tackling several urgent issues, we thought we’d pause for a moment, look back at the summer break, and resurface our six most popular articles you might have missed while traveling, surfing or ditching your e-mail for a beach read.

Here are our top back-to-school reads:

1. With less than half of LAUSD’s prospective graduates eligible for California State University system, college trustees eye adding another requirement | By Taylor Swaak

The California State University system is considering a new admissions requirement for incoming freshmen — a development that’s sparked opposition from L.A. Unified, where less than half of the prospective graduates are eligible to apply under current standards.

CSU’s Board of Trustees will review an informal proposal to add a fourth year of “quantitative reasoning” to admissions requirements across the system’s 23 campuses. A quantitative reasoning course largely centers on problem-solving using math-based skills; a high-level math class, certain science courses or an elective with “a quantitative reasoning foundation,” such as statistics and personal finance, could all qualify, according to the proposal. Three high school math courses— Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II — are already a must for CSU admissions.

System advocates say the extra prerequisite, which wouldn’t be implemented until 2026, would ensure more students build a strong learning foundation before college and have a wider array of career opportunities.

L.A. Unified and various advocates, however, view the move as a threat to equity rather than a vehicle for opportunity. The district school board rejected the idea outright in a June 18 resolution, stating that L.A Unified does not have the teaching capacity to meet the requirement. Officials said they also fear adding another prerequisite would further restrict college access for minority students, who already face pervasive equity gaps in school…read the full story.

2. Los Angeles voters roundly defeat parcel tax, leaving LAUSD on shaky financial footing | By Taylor Swaak

Los Angeles voters decisively defeated a parcel tax that would have sent $500 million a year to schools, according to unofficial results by the county registrar.

Voter turnout stood at 12.2 percent of the district’s 2.5 million registered voters — slightly above average for special elections and surpassing last month’s school board race.

L.A. Unified — along with UTLA — had touted the tax as indispensable for securing the lower class sizes and additional nurses, counselors and librarians promised in this winter’s $840 million teacher contract, which district officials say is unsustainable with current revenue levels. Opponents of the tax cited concerns about poor accountability and oversight of taxpayer money.

While L.A. Unified anticipates millions in savings through reductions in central office and health care costs, Measure EE’s defeat leaves the district on shaky financial footing as it prepares for next school year…read the full story.

3. ‘A pretty untenable plan’: As LAUSD moves to combine 5 student support programs into one, advocates fear ‘dilution’ of foster youth services | By Taylor Swaak

The Foster Youth Achievement Program has changed Skye Carbajal’s life. So the foster student left school early one day in late April to tell the L.A. Unified school board just that. Standing at the podium during an April 23 meeting, Carbajal recounted her accomplishments since she’d joined the program two years ago: She’s attended a foster youth summit in Sacramento. Honed networking skills. Won a $20,000 scholarship for college.

“Without [my counselor], I would be without guidance,” Carbajal, who is heading into her senior year at San Pedro High School, told the board. “Without [my counselor], a year ago I would not have been able to talk to you today. I wouldn’t have the confidence to.”

Now, the five-year-old program, which focuses on foster youth school attendance, educational achievement and social-emotional well-being, is being restructured, despite vigorous opposition from foster youth advocates. The district is combining five specialized student programs together — including the Foster Youth Achievement Program and the Homeless Education Program — which officials say will streamline counseling services for L.A. Unified’s highest-need pupils by placing counselors at specific school sites, cutting down on travel time typically spent driving to schools across the district.

While district officials say intensive care for L.A. Unified’s nearly 8,700 foster youth is “not changing,” the program will no longer have its own designated counselors come August. It also remains unclear how many foster youth will stay with their previous counselor.

There are “no savings” from making these changes, district spokeswoman Barbara Jones wrote in an email on July 16. She confirmed that none of the 154 counselors across the five programs have been laid off.

The planned consolidation has sparked concerns among several advocacy groups, whose leaders have told school board members in at least three public meetings since April that the new model would bloat counselor caseloads, “dilute” services and upend current relationships between foster youth and their counselors…read the full story.

4. What if my child isn’t ready for the next grade but her school plans to move her up anyway? Here’s what parents can — and can’t — do | By Esmeralda Fabián Romero

Fewer than 4 in 10 LA Unified students are reading at grade level, even fewer are at grade level in math. But parents can’t hold their children back if the school disagrees. And district policy is to almost always move elementary and middle school kids to the next grade regardless of performance.

Last year, only 1,300 of 354,000 students in grades TK- 8 were retained; that’s less than 0.4 percent, a drop from 0.55 two years ago.

So what can parents do if they feel their child isn’t ready for the next grade? Who gets the final say?

In California, it’s the schools…read the full story

5. Q&A with Ryan Smith on what it will take to close the achievement gap in California’s schools | By Esmeralda Fabián Romero

Closing the achievement gap has become one of the most critical educational challenges in California. As part of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond’s new initiative to close that gap, he has created a working group to look closely at schools throughout the state that have shown success in improving outcomes for African-Americans, Latinos and other students of color, while also addressing the recruitment and retention of teachers of color.

Last year, 36 percent of economically disadvantaged Latino students in California were proficient in reading and 27 percent were proficient in math on state tests. For economically disadvantaged African-American students, the outcomes were even lower: 27 percent were proficient in reading and 15 percent were in math. English learners scored at the bottom of all student subgroups, showing almost no growth — less than 1 percentage point — in comparison to the previous year’s scores, with 12.6 percent of them meeting standards in reading and math.

A recent study found that the achievement gap is deeper for low-income African-American students than for low-income Latinos in Los Angeles, but also that many schools are showing progress with these student groups, but still only 2 out of 10 of them have access to schools that are helping them succeed.

The new working group will explore what it would take to improve educational outcomes for the most vulnerable students in California’s public schools. Thurmond appointed three co-chairs to lead the statewide task force: Ryan Smith, who recently joined the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools as chief external officer; Roseann Torres, the founding attorney and CEO of Torres Law Group and a member of the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education, and Manufou Liaiga-Anoa’i, a social justice advocate and the first Samoan Pacific Islander to serve on the Jefferson Elementary School District Board in Daly City.

LA School Report asked Smith what it will take to close the stubborn achievement gap for students of color in California…read the full interview.

6. Research shows that charter schools do best for California’s low-income and minority students. Now state officials are considering slowing their expansion | By Kevin Mahnken

California’s years-long debate over school choice has taken a decisive turn over the first few months of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s tenure — and the shift has come at the expense of charter schools.

In February, Newsom convened a panel of experts to investigate whether charters siphon funding from school districts. The next month, he signed a law — repeatedly vetoed by the previous governor — establishing greater transparency requirements for the schools and their leaders. All the while, attention-grabbing teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland put the issue of charter growth at the top of the state’s education agenda, alongside teacher pay and school funding.

Now bills are moving through the state legislature that could dramatically curtail the charter sector’s growth. The most contentious of the package, Assembly Bill 1505, which would grant local districts greater leeway to reject petitions for new charter schools, has passed the state Assembly and now faces consideration in the state Senate. Others, including a measure to cap the total number of charters in the state, have lost momentum.

Taken together, education observers have seen the last five months as signs that California’s long period of virtually unchecked charter expansion may be ending. Foes of the privately operated public schools, most notably the state’s teachers unions, would relish the possibility.

But for the students who gain the most from charters, a slowdown or reversal of the sector’s recent growth might not be cause for celebration.

Those students, studies show, are disproportionately black, Latino, and low-income children from the state’s biggest cities; ironically, they’re also represented by some of the sector’s most prominent critics — including Newsom himself, formerly the mayor of San Francisco…read the full analysis.

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