Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: June 2018

In recent years, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has experienced declining enrollment, increased competition between its district and charter schools, and an often divided school board. However, education leaders instituted new reforms in the 2017-18 school year, resulting in simplified school enrollment and new talent pipelines. And the current school board is more aligned on strategy, including its selection of Superintendent Austin Beutner to lead LAUSD. Going forward, education leaders must develop a cohesive strategy for the city’s many schools—district and charter—and ensure that citywide efforts to improve family access to high-quality options are sustained.


System Reforms

Is the education strategy rooted in the community?

System is responsive Good
Variety of groups Good
City engages families Developing
Broad support Developing

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Right teachers Good
Right leaders Developing  
Equitable funding Developing

Do students have access
a high-quality education?

Array of school models Good
Enrollment is working Developing
Transportation is working Little in Place
Families have information Little in Place
Strategic school supply Little in Place

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

► Developing a cohesive vision for citywide improvement

The selection of a new superintendent, which builds upon the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board election in 2017, provides an opportunity for education leaders to reset and establish a strategic vision for the city. Although many initiatives have launched over the last decade, superintendent turnover and an often-divided school board have led to a lack of clarity and urgency. Leaders must identify a school improvement strategy or comprehensive portfolio strategy for all schools in L.A. Charter schools can play a role in education improvement—the city has many that are high performing—but clarifying that role is a key effort. Education leadership in L.A. must make sure to align their next steps with an existing community-led reform movement and an active funding community.

Helping families choose L.A. public schools

Los Angeles has a complex portfolio of schools: 260 magnet schools, 133 dual-language or bilingual programs, 150 Schools for Advanced Studies, 94 autonomous schools, 44 linked learning pathways, 7 International Baccalaureate programs, 277 public charter schools, and hundreds of traditional neighborhood schools. For all families to gain access to these options, education leaders in the district and charter sectors must first make sure they have information about high-quality public schools, and then simplify the application process. Encouragingly, in April 2018 the school board voted to create a common performance framework that will include a single summative rating for all LAUSD schools. The working group established by the board should learn from other cities to replicate successful strategies, such as providing simple cross-school  comparison, including each school’s availability of special education or English language learner services, and setting common criteria for what a particular curricular model encompasses. Additionally,  the initial phase of LAUSD’s unified enrollment system provides families with information about some schools, such as the district’s magnet and dual-language programs. Families are using this system for some school applications as of spring 2018 for the 2018-19 school year. Education leaders should consider consolidating more school choice programs into this system and further aligning application timelines.

Prioritizing school quality in the midst of a financial crisis

Facing declining enrollment and a fiscal cliff, LAUSD must maximize its financial resources. To revive enrollment and increase options, both the district and charter sectors have been opening new school models, but neither are closing schools at a similar rate. This process must be more strategic and data-driven to avoid duplication of efforts and keep the focus on increasing the availability of quality school options. LAUSD must clearly identify necessary central office costs and then prioritize resources for distribution to individual schools to support instruction and other student needs. Some district schools have significant flexibility over resources, staffing, and curriculum, but this has not been codified through district-level policy. To align with the spirit of California’s weighted student funding system, LAUSD developed the Student Equity Needs Index with community input. This helps target resources to the school level, but currently reflects only a small portion of the LAUSD budget. Another opportunity is to reconsider accepting philanthropic dollars, which it has previously rejected.


Board Clarifies School Performance Ratings to Improve School Choice

How should parents determine which schools to attend? How should LAUSD determine where to prioritize improvement?

Until recently, this has been unclear in Los Angeles. Although the State of California publishes a school dashboard, many community groups report that many families do not know how to use or interpret the data. The district lacks a clear way to identify its lowest-performing schools.

In April 2018 the Los Angeles school board voted to create a common performance framework that will include a single summative rating and allow parents to hone in on information they care about. “We’ve had numerous conversations about low-performing schools, but we haven’t acted as a system yet,” board member Kelly Gonez said. “We needed to do something as a system.” (LA School Report, 4/12/2018).

As a first step, a working group will be convened by the superintendent and will report back to the school board later in 2018.

Grassroots Groups Push Change Through Grants, Forums, and School-Application Assistance

An active grassroots coalition has emerged in Los Angeles in the absence of cohesive civic leadership. One of these groups, Great Public Schools Now, is working across sectors to improve school performance. They provide grants to charter and district schools to replicate successful programs and improve teacher retention and teacher candidate pools. The group also holds community forums across the city to collect information about family needs.

Parent Revolution, a local nonprofit, helped hundreds of families identify and submit applications to high-quality schools through a pilot program launched in 2016. Their support helped families facing multiple applications and no consolidated source of school information.

Parent Revolution is part of a larger coalition led by the Partnership for Equitable Access to Public Schools in Los Angeles, which currently advises on the development of a school finder tool that will improve family access to information.

Student and School Outcomes

Graduation rates in Los Angeles have kept pace with the state, with rates at about 6 percentage points below state averages in 2014-15. Our measure of student access to high-quality educational opportunities indicates some disparities: Hispanic students were enrolled in high school advanced math coursework at rates below their enrollment, while Asian American and Pacific Islander students had disproportionately high enrollment.

► In 2014-15, the city’s graduation rate was slightly below the state’s.

► In 2013-14, Hispanic students were enrolling in high school advanced math coursework at rates below their enrollment, while Asian American and Pacific Islander students (shown above as “Other”) had disproportionately high enrollment.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. Graduation data from EDFacts and math enrollment data from the Federal government’s Civil Rights Data Collection initiative. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.


About Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has the second-largest public school system in the nation. District boundaries are somewhat larger than the city of Los Angeles; for example, the district also serves the city of West Hollywood. Since the 1990s, the education system has undergone various reforms to decentralize decisionmaking at the school and regional levels and provide families with more choice over school options. A strong coalition of third-party organizations has long been guiding education efforts across the city.

School Choice in the City

Students are assigned to a neighborhood school. Families can opt into other schools using any one of LAUSD’s broad array of in-district choice programs or apply to a charter school.

Governance Model

The LAUSD school board is a democratically elected 7-member body that oversees district schools and authorizes the majority of the city’s charter schools. It recently selected Superintendent Austin Beutner to run the system. LAUSD has six local districts with regional superintendents who oversee day-to-day operations and report to the superintendent. Some oversight and support of the district is provided by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which also directly authorizes charter schools under certain circumstances.

2017 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 664,774 students
Race and ethnicity: 74% Hispanic, 10% black, 8% white, 8% other
Low-income: 79% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Note: Enrollment and demographics data for LAUSD district schools and LAUSD-affiliated charter schools.
Source: Los Angeles Unified School District and ED-Data, 2016-17.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email crpe@uw.edu.