The 18 most popular articles we published in 2018 about Los Angeles schools & the state of education across California
Laura Greanias | December 17, 2018
For Los Angeles, 2018 ushered in a new superintendent, new promises to students, new hiring freedoms for principals and new warnings about the school district’s precarious finances.
In education news around California, graduation rates rose but the state showed no improvement in getting its high school seniors eligible for state universities — even though California students enroll in “credit recovery” programs at a rate far above the national average.
Those headlines were among our most-read in 2018. Here’s a look back at the top 18 stories of 2018.
That was the bombshell dropped at an August school board meeting when the chief financial officer of the Los Angeles County Office of Education showed up unexpectedly with the message: The county is greatly concerned about the district’s finances — and has the authority to step in if board members don’t take the initiative and ensure the district’s solvency. The CFO punctuated her warning with two words that made board members sit up and take notice: fiscal adviser. If the district can’t prove it will still be in the black in three years, the county warned it would take the unprecedented step of installing a fiscal adviser over LA Unified, who would strip both the superintendent and the school board of power and take over the district.
One month after the county CFO’s surprise visit to the school board, she came back — and this time she brought a top state official with the same message: You’re spending more money than you make and the savings you’ve been living off of are about to run out. “Yes, my presence is indicative that this is serious,” the state education department official said. As one board member remarked at the meeting, “If I were the superintendent, I’d be freaking out about this report.”
As LA Unified moved to help its most struggling students, it gave about one-fourth of its schools the coveted freedom of being able to hire the best teacher for the job. However, the majority of Los Angeles schools are still shackled by a longtime districtwide policy that forces principals to hire from a “must-place” list of “displaced” teachers. But that could change. Board members directed Superintendent Austin Beutner to “work to eliminate the pool of teachers who are displaced one year or more.” There are currently 708 displaced teachers on L.A. Unified’s payroll, and 211 of them had been on the list for more than a year as of June. Coming in January, board members will consider expanding the privilege to all schools so that “no teacher shall be employed at a school without the mutual agreement of the teacher and the school site decision-maker.”
At a special school board meeting in September on teacher quality, board members were briefed on how teachers are hired and fired. They learned that in the previous school year, the “must-place” teachers cost the district about $15 million, and an independent review panel has urged LA Unified to end the pool.
The elected leaders of Los Angeles’s public schools sent a strong signal last spring that the city needs bold leadership, choosing local businessman Austin Beutner as superintendent of schools. The former investment banker served as first deputy mayor of Los Angeles, then moved across the street from City Hall to the Los Angeles Times as publisher and CEO. He was co-leader of a task force on LA Unified but did not have an education background, yet he brought financial acumen, political savvy, and negotiation skills. The choice showed that board members were ready to shake up the district and reflected an urgent need to improve student outcomes in Los Angeles public schools while staving off weakening finances that could put LA Unified under state control.
As the school year began, the new superintendent sat down with the parent advocacy organization Speak UP to discuss labor talks, parent power and how to solve the district’s financial crisis while putting the needs of kids first.
LA Unified made a big commitment to its students and families this year: by 2023 all students will be college-ready, and — to make sure parents can hold the district accountable — it will now report two different graduation rates: the percentage of students who graduated meeting state standards, and the percentage of how many were eligible to apply to state universities. Through unanimous approval of the “Realizing the Promise for All: Close the Gap by 2023” resolution in June, the board members committed to all students — including English learners, special education students, foster youth, and those living in poverty — to provide the support they need to graduate eligible to apply to a state four-year university. The resolution also directed the district to develop tougher school site improvement plans and exempt the principals of the lowest-performing schools from having to hire off the district’s “must-place” teachers list.
California’s graduation rate rises, but there’s no improvement in students’ eligibility for state universities
California posted a near all-time high graduation rate — 83 percent for the Class of 2018 — but the rate of students eligible to apply for state universities didn’t budge, according to state data released in November. Just under half — 49.9 percent — of the Class of 2018 met admission requirements for the University of California and/or the California State University systems — the same as in 2017. In LA Unified, the graduation rate rose to 76.6 percent. Its rate of seniors eligible for UC and CSU schools rose to 61.9 percent, up from 59.8 percent in 2016-17.
If LA Unified’s growing student homeless crisis had an epicenter, Telfair Elementary in the northeast San Fernando Valley would be it. Last year the school had the highest percentage of homeless students; so far this year, it’s tied for first place. And as the district explores expanding support for its estimated 16,000 homeless students, Telfair could be first in line for help — and a model for the rest of LA Unified. The school board has directed Superintendent Austin Beutner to study the possibility of housing homeless students and their families on district property, such as in school gyms and parking lots. Beutner reminded board members that “our No. 1 priority is to educate children,” then said he’d like to start at one school, Telfair in Pacoima, instead of a broader surveying of the district’s schools. “If we start at Telfair, and we can prove to everybody here that we can solve [homelessness] at Telfair, then I think we can solve it in more communities,” he said.
As the district studies using district property to house homeless students and their families, options include designating parking lots and other district spaces for overnight parking for homeless students and families, providing overnight shelter and meals, and building or converting buildings to create temporary or permanent housing.
See how much has changed — or not — in a year, with a glance at the top stories of 2017: