Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Los Angeles has a strong grassroots presence and the community regularly shapes the school opening process. But access to high-quality school options remains a significant challenge. Families lack consistent, comprehensive, user-friendly information about all their school options, and there is no citywide data-driven strategy to guide school siting and facilities access, or to hold schools accountable for poor performance and underenrollment. The board has taken initial steps to address these issues, but new Superintendent Austin Beutner must see them through.


Is the education strategy rooted in the community?


Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders.


► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

Los Angeles has ongoing, nonprofit community efforts supporting education. The Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) coalition, established in 2013 and led by United Way, MALDEF, Inner City Struggle, and others, has long championed equity and accountability. They have been joined more recently by groups like the Partnership for Equitable Access to Public Schools (PEAPS-LA) and Great Public Schools Now. They and other nonprofits continue to build a strong grassroots community in Los Angeles that includes churches, foster youth organizations, and local community service organizations, and they often work together to reach a wider group of parents. These groups represent families most impacted by low-performing schools, but some neighborhoods still lack organized representation. Coalitions tend to be regional, but there has been increased citywide collaboration on issues like unified enrollment and equitable funding.


► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

In response to community interest in 2016 and 2017, former LAUSD superintendent Michelle King held town halls at neighborhood schools across the city. Community groups reported that families in Los Angeles are actively engaged in understanding and improving school options. Additionally, they reported that the school board increasingly recognizes the role of parents in the policymaking processes. Community groups, such as Parent Revolution and Speak UP, have helped parents be active at school board meetings and board members have subsequently made requests to meet with the parents to resolve issues such as funding and school information.


► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

LAUSD does not have a set protocol for communicating information to families about school openings, closures, or school improvement efforts. This results in decreased transparency in both the district and charter sectors. The district has moved away from a structured approach in favor of what they consider an organic feedback process with individual school communities. In the charter sector, there are no unified engagement standards; rather, as independent entities, their strategies around family engagement remain tailored and localized to each school.


► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

In recent years LAUSD has had a divided school board, uncertainty over who would lead the district as superintendent, and a mayor who was not actively involved in education. At times, relationships between charter school supporters and LAUSD has been openly contentious. Grassroots coalitions have been guiding coherence around education efforts, although LAUSD has much to do to improve low-performing schools and right-size district operations. Following a school board election in May 2017, the majority of members now support a reform agenda. The selection of civic leader Austin Beutner as superintendent in May 2018 may lead to a fully articulated education strategy that the city can rally behind.

Is the education system continuously improving?


Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.


► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

While both district and charter schools experience problematic teacher shortages, LAUSD has made significant improvements in teacher placement and retention in recent years. LAUSD’s career ladder program provides guidance and financial support to paraprofessionals and other classified staff members seeking to become teachers; it currently serves nearly 400 members training in high-need areas such as special education and bilingual education. District officials also reported strong pipelines from local California State University campuses, UCLA, Loyola Marymount, USC, and Pepperdine. In 2017 the charter sector reported facing challenges with recruiting and retaining teachers—regularly losing teachers who leave for more lucrative positions in district schools—with no sector-wide strategy to address this. Nevertheless, smaller charter schools tried innovative solutions like recruiting from among student alumni, while larger charter management organizations relied on independent pipelines.


► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

Citywide leadership vacancies are low in Los Angeles, but the quality and fit of leaders varies across sectors and turnover at district schools can be a problem. An internal district pipeline has helped LAUSD increase the number of applications for open positions and allows them to develop a strong bench of future school and non-school leadership. Charter leaders reported in 2017 that leadership recruitment was not a problem, but also said that quality and fit within the current leadership pool was lacking.


► Does funding equitably follow students?

The LAUSD school board voted in April 2018 to revise its Student Equity Needs Index to include additional student characteristics, such as asthma rates, gunshot injuries, and test scores. However, the index represented slightly less than 5% of LAUSD’s overall operating budget in 2017-2018, according to the Partnership for LA Schools, and relatively little funding is provided to schools on a strict per-student basis.

Do students have access to a high-quality education?


Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools. We look at what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families who want to use it.


► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

Ensuring that school models are responsive to community needs is a top priority for both district and charter leaders. Due to recent enrollment challenges, LAUSD is not opening many new schools, but it is encouraging pilot schools to experiment with new governance models, reimagine academic programs, and convert existing school seats to magnet seats. The charter supply represents a fairly even mix of small local charter schools and large charter management organizations, although leaders reported concern that burdensome administrative requirements, politics, and facility availability are limiting the expansion of small, innovative charter schools.


► Is the enrollment process working for families?

Community groups reported that the enrollment process is a challenge for Los Angeles families and that affluent families who have the resources to navigate the system have an unfair advantage. As a step forward, in spring 2018 LAUSD launched a unified enrollment system for multiple in-district choice programs, embedded outreach support in local district offices, and plans to open “Welcome Centers” later this year. LAUSD reported that the new system has led to increased applications, including an almost 100% increase over the past year during the second enrollment window for magnet schools. The enrollment system does not include all schools, notably excluding independent charter schools, and uses different deadlines and applications for various in-district choice programs. The charter sector is exploring developing a separate system.

Little in Place

► Is transportation working for families?

Busing is available for students to attend residential traditional schools in LAUSD, but options diminish considerably when traveling farther out and vary by school choice program. Many charter schools cannot provide transportation. Discounted metro cards are available for students through LA Metro, but no free public transit option. Community members also reported frustration that no solutions have been proposed to address this problem.

Little in Place

► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

Community groups reported that most Los Angeles families are making school choice decisions based on word of mouth or  are relying on school principals to tell them about available options when advancing to middle or high schools. Groups like Parent Revolution have tried to fill some of these gaps by providing families guidance through the process. The State of California publishes a school dashboard using an accountability framework, but community groups reported that many families do not know how to use or interpret the data. In April 2018 the LAUSD school board voted to create a school performance framework that will include a single summative rating for both district and charter schools.

Little in Place

► Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

Enrollment is declining within LAUSD boundaries, yet education leaders report that chronically underperforming and underenrolled schools remain open. New schools are opening in response to community demand, but there is a perception that school closures and consolidations citywide don’t happen in parallel with school growth. Education leaders cited different reasons for the current school supply problem, including community politics, a lack of strong leadership or collaboration across sectors, perceived oversaturation, and limited facilities. The city lacks clear or consistent processes to guide school opening or closing and does not have an intentional school supply strategy. A district official explained that, under current procedures, regional administrators work to identify schools in need of improvement and then create interventions.

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

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. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels


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.