In Partnership with 74

LAUSD gets a new ‘index’ to help schools where needs are highest

Yana Gracile | April 15, 2014

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imagesA coalition of education advocates and community groups has developed a new tool, a “student needs index,” and offering it to LA Unified to help identify high-need schools as the district refines its next annual budget.

Created by the Community Coalition, Advancement Project and InnerCity Struggle, the index uses environmental, social and academic factors that affect student learning to provide the district another measure of students living in poverty, beyond the usual metric of free and reduced-price lunch.

“The index not only measures academic results, but it also measures neighborhood conditions such as exposure to violence, access to youth programming, access to early care and education,” Maria Brenes, Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle, told LA School Report.

In identifying 242 high need schools in LAUSD, most of them in south and east Los Angeles, the index provides a better idea of where the need is greatest, specifically the student populations that money from the state, $837 million, is intended to help — foster youth, English learners and low-income students.

“We think [the index] is an innovative framework for the district in terms of how to target resources for the highest impact,” Brenes said.

The challenge for the community groups now is convincing the district to use the index.

“The state regulations are relatively flexible on how districts can distribute funding amongst their schools,” said Edgar Zazueta, director of LAUSD’s Office of Government Relations. “Districts can use other criteria in identifying need in their schools as long as we proportionally benefit English learners, foster youth and low income students.

“We need to fully review the proposal from the groups, but the district is continuing to look all appropriate factors to identify need within LAUSD.”

In developing the index, the groups found that students in high-needs schools are about three times more likely to be classified as English learners, more than three times more likely to have been expelled or suspended, about three and a half times more likely to have classmates that are in foster care and are five times as likely to be exposed to gang violence.

In addition to the index, officials at InnerCity Struggle also compiled a framework of services and programs they feel the district should invest in that would have the highest impact on student achievement. Four programs were identified:

  • Providing additional positions for early education expansion,
  • Adding more English learner counselors at school sites to support students and families for the re-classification process
  • Increasing academic outcomes for foster youth
  • Increasing number of restorative justice coordinators at school sites

Restorative justice is a practice in which schools use different tactics to discipline students. Instead of punitive measures for minor offenses, such as expulsions and suspensions, schools would instead hold students accountable for their actions in more instructional ways. When there’s a discipline issue, students are encouraged to work out their problem or apologize to the offended party.

Brenes said this disciplinary technique has proven successful because the students are also learning from their experience.

She points to Garfied High School in east Los Angeles, which has been using this technique for more than two years.

Brenes said the practice has improved the entire school environment. In addition to an almost zero suspension rate, she said there have been significant changes in student behaviors, and graduation and attendance rates have also increased.

The groups’ goal over the next few weeks is to encourage Superintendent John Deasy to take the index into account during budget negotiations as a means to help as many students as possible from among those who need it most.


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