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LAUSD board to vote on tougher graduation requirements, ways to improve lowest-performing schools

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | June 11, 2018

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Parents who have been calling for improvements at LAUSD’s lowest-performing schools gather after speaking at a board meeting in May.

As LA Unified school board members press ahead with how to improve the district’s lowest-performing schools, a vote is scheduled for Tuesday on a resolution with higher student achievement and graduation goals as well as ways to strengthen individual schools.

Growing frustration by parents who have children in the bottom tier of LA schools led to inclusion in the resolution of more specific goals for schools’ improvement plans.

Some of those parents have been filling the seats at almost every board meeting for nearly six months to ask the district “What’s the plan?” to improve their schools.

Board President Mónica García, who is co-authoring the resolution, said she heard the concerns of the parents, who are supported by the advocacy group Parent Revolution.

“Specifically on what the parents are asking us, I saw what they sent us, I had conversations with local district leaders, and so the parents are lifting issues of concern, every (local) district, every board office, every community, has some level of goals of what they want to change or improve the next year,” she said. “The challenge of the district is that there’s a concentration of concern in some communities.”

The resolution, “Realizing the Promise for All: Close the Gap by 2023,” co-authored by García and Richard Vladovic, calls for all schools to “engage in a Single Plan for Student Achievement development process that includes root cause analysis, cycles of inquiry and improved equity-based budgeting.” It also calls on the superintendent to “provide bounded autonomy for evidence-based, high impact investments and curated supports for college and career readiness.”

García said this resolution will help schools hit higher expectations by allowing school leaders to make their own choices to improve their schools. “We have to let schools’ leadership make choices about how to best address those issues.”

García said the resolution builds on two others that were approved in April: the “New Performance Framework” resolution about identifying which schools need more support, and the Student Equity Need Index 2.0 resolution to use dollars differently and help the highest-needs schools first.

The new resolution also sets a goal of every graduate eligible for a four-year public California university by 2023. That means students will have to earn at least a C in a set of required college-prep classes, known as A-G courses. Currently, students can graduate with D’s in those classes. Of last year’s graduates, only 56 percent were passing the college-prep classes with a C or better, and some board members last fall called for that bar to be raised.

To get to that goal by 2023, the resolution states that all first-graders will be proficient in reading, third-graders will be proficient on state tests, English learners who were identified in either kindergarten or first grade will be reclassified by sixth grade, and every high school student will successfully complete at least one Advanced Placement class, International Baccalaureate, or one semester of dual enrollment courses with a college.

Asked whether those goals can be reached despite the district’s financial crisis, García said, “It’s absolutely possible! The ‘Closing the Gap’ resolution is about addressing that we have the right policy we need to support kids better,” she said in an interview Friday. “It’s not about changing the course, it’s about strengthening the pathway. We were at the place where we lost $2.9 million and kids did better not because we changed the kids but because we changed the rules around the way we were supporting schools,” she said, referring to the board’s decision a decade ago to ensure that every student has access to the A-G curriculum.

Parents sound the alarm over low-performing schools

The parents who have been calling for academic improvements at the worst-off schools have been showing up at board meetings and meeting with district officials, asking what plans are on the books for those schools.

In April a district official told the parents those schools already have “a plan,” called the “Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA),” which is a federal requirement for every school.

The parents reviewed some of those plans but found them incomplete and with few workable solutions for improvement.

“What we as parents want is not any plan, but a strong plan, a comprehensive, detailed, and clear plan,” Blanca Espinosa said during public comment at the May 8 board meeting. Her grandson attends a school in District 2, represented by García.

Espinosa said that school is in the red category in English Language Arts and in the orange category in math — the two lowest categories on the California School Dashboard, the state’s school evaluation tool.

“By reading these plans, the goals don’t seem to come from accurate data and don’t reflect the school’s actual performance. We need a plan with accurate goals, accessible to parents, and that we can understand, knowing who is accountable for the plan,” Espinosa said.

At the May meeting, the group of parents asked LA Unified’s new superintendent and the school board members to analyze those plans and present their findings publicly at the June 12 board meeting. They delivered a letter and other documents, electronically, including a list of the 49 lowest-performing elementary and middle schools and the district.

Their request does not appear in the Tuesday meeting’s agenda as an item itself, but the SPSA plans are mentioned in García’s and Vladovic’s resolution.

García said she saw the documents the parents delivered to the seven members of the board and the superintendent, and she thinks parents did the right thing.

“It‘s important that we hear our community continue to advocate for changes in our schools. The plans are different across all schools — it’s the execution of the plan, the relationships at the school site, but at the core, there’s no one solution for immediate turnaround,” she said.

While she recognized there are schools that are not “where we want them to be, and others show inconsistent improvement, some are improving every year.” But she believes there’s not one solution for everybody.

“I think that it is the district’s responsibility how are we supporting all schools, but in my district, when a principal and local superintendent make choices, I generally see better results than when big Beaudry (LA Unified’s headquarters) makes a choice about something,” García said.

Seth Litt, executive director of the advocacy group Parent Revolution that supports the group of parents, said the new resolution would improve the process, including goal setting, for the single plans. But he added, “Nothing will improve for children until the organizational culture that refuses to hold itself accountable, even to its own rules and resolutions, changes.

“We want to know why schools, local districts, district leadership and the school board have all been approving school plans that violate the current requirements. The lack of coherent school improvement plans for the district’s lowest-performing schools is just one symptom of that culture.”

He added, “Parents are very disappointed. Some of them are still determined to seek for change, but others are getting ready to move their kids out of those schools. Parents have shown they want to be partners in improving their schools and their community, but there has been no room for them.”

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