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The most memorable education articles of 2019: Our top 10 stories about Los Angeles classrooms, students and school policies from the past year

LA School Report | January 2, 2020

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From strikes to financial woes to inspiring educators and shifting graduation requirements, it was a busy year at LA School Report, charting the course of the country’s second-largest school district. As we turn the page on a new year, a quick look back at the 10 stories that resonated most with readers across California in 2019:

University of California President Janet Napolitano (Credit: Getty Images)

With less than half of LAUSD’s prospective graduates eligible for California State University system, college trustees eye adding another requirement

Last July, Taylor Swaak covered the California State University system’s consideration of 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. As CSU’s Board of Trustees prepared to review an informal proposal to add a fourth year of “quantitative reasoning” to admissions requirements across the system’s 23 campuses, advocates said 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. Some other public university systems, such as Arizona State and Texas State, have adopted a similar requirement.

L.A. Unified and various advocates, however, viewed the move as a threat to equity rather than a vehicle for opportunity. The district school board rejected the idea outright in a June 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)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: LAUSD board member Nick Melvoin, left, speaks as superintendent Austin Beutner, center, and board president M?nica Garc?a, right, consider a resolution calling on state officials to support a moratorium on new charter schools at Los Angeles Board of Education meeting on January 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The L.A. Board of Education also voted Tuesday on the contract that ended a six-day teachers strike. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Nick Melvoin, left, at a board meeting last month. On Tuesday, the board will vote on his resolution titled, “Empowering Schools and Teachers with Choice of Employment.” (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

LAUSD board to consider removing a policy that forces schools to hire from a list of displaced teachers — and forces teachers into assignments they don’t want

The L.A. Unified school board voted in February on whether to get rid of a district policy that can force schools to hire “displaced” teachers — even if they aren’t good fits. The resolution, brought by Nick Melvoin and co-sponsored by Richard Vladovic, stated that “no teacher shall be employed at a school without the mutual agreement of the teacher and the school site decision-maker” starting in the 2019-20 school year. A resolution granting this freedom to about a quarter of L.A. Unified’s schools — those that are the lowest-performing and highest-need — passed unanimously in 2018. The new resolution would expand that freedom districtwide.

School sites can currently sidestep unwanted teacher placements in a few ways, such as applying for waivers or using long-term substitutes to fill vacancies. But there is a point where the district can “place teachers anywhere” in the remaining three-quarters of L.A. Unified’s 1,000 schools, Melvoin said. Displaced teachers include those who were forced out of a school because they were bumped by a more senior employee, were deemed ineffective or are returning from a leave of absence and have not yet been hired at a school site. “Must-place” refers to teachers who have been on that list for more than a year. About 500 “must-place” teachers were assigned across L.A. Unified between 2015 and 2018, according to a Partnership for Los Angeles Schools report. (Read more about the proposal – and the board’s subsequent vote to kill the resolution)

A group of Noble Network’s college-bound seniors. (Photo: Richard Whitmire)

New numbers show low-income alumni of KIPP schools are graduating college at 3-4 times the national average; alumni of Alliance, Aspire & Green Dot schools also above average

A fresh look at the college success records at KIPP and other major charter networks serving low-income students shows alumni earning bachelor’s degrees at rates up to four times higher than the 11 percent rate expected for that student population.

The ability of the high-performing networks to make good on the promise their founders made to struggling parents years ago — Send us your kids and we will get them to and through college — was something Richard Whitmire first reported on two years ago in his book The Alumni. Writing his new book The B.A. Breakthrough: How Ending the Diploma Disparity Can Change the Face of America provided the chance to go back and revisit those results. The baseline comparison number is slightly different but still dismal — just 11 percent of low-income students will graduate from college within six years — while for the big, nonprofit charter networks that serve high-poverty, minority students in Los Angeles and other major cities, the rates range from somewhat better to four times better and, in some cases, even higher. (Read more about the numbers, and Whitmire’s full analysis)

Exclusive: Less than 25% of LAUSD seniors last year took the type of math/quantitative reasoning class California State University wants to make a requirement

As the country’s largest four-year public university considers adding a fourth-year math/quantitative reasoning requirement to its admissions standards, new data shows less than a quarter of L.A. Unified seniors last year took such a class. About 23.5 percent of seniors — or 8,472 of 36,124 — were enrolled in a fourth-year math/quantitative reasoning course during the 2018-19 school year, according to the district’s Office of General Counsel. That more than 75 percent of seniors in the state’s largest school district were not enrolled in what could become a required CSU admissions course elicited serious concerns from advocates already worried about college access and readiness among L.A. Unified graduates, less than half of whom were on track to be eligible for CSU admissions last year under the current standards. (Read our exclusive break down of the numbers)

Q&A: Jackie Goldberg outlines her first-day priorities and her strategies as she prepares to face Heather Repenning in May’s LAUSD school board election

With the race for the school board seat in L.A. Unified’s Board District 5 still headed for a runoff last spring, Jackie Goldberg had yet to break a sweat. With ardent backing from the teachers union, the 74-year-old former school board member nabbed 15,935 votes — 48.18 percent of the 33,074 total primary ballots cast — in the March primary. Even before that vote was certified, Goldberg told LA School Report that she and her team were already prepping for a runoff, and sticking to the strategy and priorities that got her to where she is now. A prominent face of union support and charter school skepticism during January’s teacher strike, Goldberg had mounted a primary campaign that nearly secured her the more than 50 percent majority vote required to win outright amid a pool of 10 candidates.“We’ll do what we’ve always done, which is to run a campaign on why I think I’m the right person at this moment to help preserve and protect and promote appropriate funding of public education,” said Goldberg. (Read our full interview)

3 California NAACP chapters break with state and national leaders, calling for charter moratorium to be overturned

NAACP branches in three California cities that have some of the state’s largest populations of black students are calling to end the charter school moratorium adopted by their national board in 2016. The San Diego, Southwest Riverside and San Bernardino branches have submitted separate resolutions to NAACP’s state board saying they oppose the moratorium, a move that breaks with the state organization’s education chair, Julian Vasquez Heilig, who was a driving force behind the national board voting in favor of the measure. In an email obtained by LA School Report, Alice A. Huffman, president of the California Hawaii NAACP, told leaders in the three local branches that the state branch “has already taken a position of opposition and would appreciate it if you all would rescind your positions.” (Read the full story)

‘Very much’ the same thing: LAUSD continues to struggle to stay afloat as it waits for new revenue, latest financial report shows

School board members have approved L.A. Unified’s latest budget, even though the district is still far from being financially sustainable. The revised fiscal stabilization plan lays out the district’s response to county concerns about deficit spending, inadequate reserve levels and reliance on non-guaranteed funds to keep itself afloat in coming years. But instead of providing clarity, the latest budget highlighted the district’s deepening reliance on new funding sources as it struggles to correct its ballooning deficit and to meet future minimum reserve requirements that could shield it from a county takeover. The plan, presented in March, offered the first in-depth look at L.A. Unified’s budget since the district settled its new teachers contract in January. (Read more about the budget)

10 things parents need to know about their schools during a teacher strike

More than 30,000 teachers, school counselors, nurses and social workers in Los Angeles went out on strike in January, an action that affected more than 1,000 schools serving about 480,000 K-12 students across Los Angeles, as well as their families and the community. On the eve of the walkout, Esmeralda Fabián Romero broke down 10 things parents should know. “Can I continue to take my child to school?” Yes, schools will remain open. School schedules will remain the same, including before- and after-school programs. “Who would be teaching my child?” The district is directing about 2,000 administrators and other Central Office and Local District staff who hold teaching credentials to provide instruction during a strike. In addition, the district anticipates having 400 substitute teachers available. (Read the full primer)

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

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, 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. 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. (Read the full report)

Just 24 states mandate sex education for K-12 students, and only 9 require any discussion of consent. See how California compares

Sex education is getting more attention in the wake of the #MeToo movement, particularly the need to teach students about consent. What students learn about sex and sexuality during school varies widely from state to state and even from classroom to classroom. But this spring lawmakers in a handful of states are trying to pass bills to update their sex education policies to help students become more informed and better prepared to make good decisions. Just 24 states mandate sex education in schools. Of those, only 10 require that it be medically accurate. Only nine require that it include consent. California is in that rare category that requires all three. (Read more about the state of sex education)

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