What's The Plan?

See the Parent Power Network's Letter to new LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner

5/8/2018

To Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner,

Contained in this binder are the “Single Plan for Student Achievement” (SPSA) for forty-nine elementary and middle schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Each of these schools was rated with very low performance on the Fall 2017 release of the California School Dashboard, with ratings of Red or Orange, the two lowest possible ratings on English Language Arts, Math and English Learner Progress. Each school board member has received a similar binder with the schools that are located in their board district.

We have also enclosed an evaluation rubric, which has been adapted from The California Department of Education: SPSA Part I: A Guide for Developing the Single Plan for Student Achievement.

We are asking for your review of the enclosed SPSAs, as well as an analysis of the SPSAs, to be conducted by the appropriate Los Angeles Unified School District staff and presented publicly at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s June 12th meeting.

Many of the members of the Parent Power Network have children who attend LAUSD schools with very low levels of student academic achievement or growth. Many of these schools have had persistently low student performance for years, in some cases for generations. 

Sending one’s child to school is an act of faith, but it should not be an act of blind faith. Families who have children in schools with low levels of student academic performance want to know that there is a plan to improve their schools. Parents want to know if and when things will get better. However, for many of the families in Los Angeles with children in the lowest performing schools, it is not clear that there is a coherent and urgent plan to improve the schools that their children attend.

Parents also want to exactly how their schools will improve and want to know what role they can play in academic improvement strategies. Families want to work, hand in hand with the teachers, school leadership and the school district to improve their schools and to increase the opportunities that children in their community have.

In response, parents have asked a simple question of the Los Angeles Unified School Board: “What’s the plan?”

On behalf of the families that we serve, Parent Revolution reached out to each of LAUSD’s local district superintendents on February 14, 2018, requesting information on the schools in their district that had the lowest levels of academic achievement in academics - ratings of Red or Orange on Math, ELA and English Learner Progress.

We wanted to know if there was any data for this set of very low performing schools that showed that despite their California School Dashboard ratings, these schools were making academic progress. We also requested any school improvement plans that were in place and were resulting in measurable improvements at any of the schools.  We understand that school improvement does not happen overnight, but that there is a stark difference between a low-performing school that is executing a well-designed plan for improvement and one that has neither a plan for or evidence of progress.

We did not receive a response from any of the local superintendents. However, we did receive an invitation to meet with LAUSD’s chief of staff, Alma Pena-Sanchez. At this meeting, the Chief of Staff explained that the Single Plans were “the plan” for school improvement.

The district’s response to our request, in directing us to the single plan, aligns with the California Department of Education’s guidance for the Single Plan for Student Achievement which states, under the section entitled, “ Legal Specifics for the SPSA” that “The SPSA is a blueprint to improve the academic performance of all students.” The document further states that “the purpose of the SPSA is to coordinate all educational services at the school.”

In short, the response to the parent question, “Is there a plan that will improve the lowest performing schools?” LAUSD responded, “Yes, the Single Plan for Student Achievement.”

Identified Schools

For the past five years, as California has redesigned its school rating system, there has been no clear definition of school performance. With the Fall 2017 release of the California School Dashboard, it is clear that LAUSD faces challenges with academic achievement. The district scores a rating of orange, the second lowest rating possible, in both English Language Arts and Math.  LAUSD scored a “low” on ELA with students in an average of 39.6 points below proficiency. The district score is a “low” in Math as well, scoring at 59.7 points below proficiency. English Learner Progress was a brighter spot with LAUSD rating “Green,” the second highest rating, with 74.1% of English Learners making progress toward English proficiency.

 Across the district there are 49 elementary schools that are red or orange in all three available academic indicators. This means that the status for ELA, Math and English Learner progress is very low or low and they have decreased significantly, decreased, or maintained. A different calculation could be done to determine which set of school in LAUSD are the lowest performing. Even if one does not believe that these schools are lowest performing, it would be hard to argue that they are not very low performing.

The Single Plans for Student Achievement at Low Performing Schools

 The obvious truth about children is that they get older every day, and every one of those days that sees them languish in a school that is not meeting their needs is a missed opportunity that they will not get back.  Given the extremely low performance of the identified schools, the content of these plans, which are supposed to be the primary drivers of a coordinated strategy to dramatically improve student outcomes, is vitally important. Since Single Plans go through several levels of approval, from the school site, to the local district, to the governing board, we understand that they are intended to reflect a systemic effort to improve these schools.

Within this set of very low performing schools, there are likely schools that have credible plans for improvement, which are being implemented with coherence and consistency across multiple school years and where resources have all been aligned to drive research-based strategies to improve student achievement.

However, in our review of these Single Plans with LAUSD families, it is clear that many of the plans do not reflect the type of rigorous root cause analysis, data analysis, evaluation of current programs and strategies, goal setting with aligned strategies and resource allocation that will serve to improve outcomes. Some plans appear incomplete. This is troubling.

In face of dire student outcomes, what does it say when the plans are not well-written or do not provide a reasonable chance for success? What does it say about the system that approved insufficient plans, indicating that they are the best that we can do for the students who attend and will attend these schools? What does it say about how we value the lives and the potential of the students that attend these schools?

No piece of paper, no matter how well written, will transform these schools and give students the opportunities that they deserve. But as a leader you know the value of a good plan and the consequences of poor planning. Without a good plan there is no hope for success. This is true for a teacher and their lesson plans, for school leaders and their professional development plans, for a family and their child’s Individualized Education Plan, and it is true for the schools district and its schools.

We are requesting the following:

 ·       For senior level staff at LAUSD to conduct an analysis of the enclosed Single Plans using the enclosed rubric and any evaluation tool that LAUSD normally uses to evaluate and approve SPSAs.

·       For a public, staff presentation on this analysis and any finding to be presented to the LAUSD board of education, as an agenda item, at the regular school board meeting on June 12th.

·       For the LAUSD Board of Education and the Superintendent of schools to act with proper oversight to ensure that all schools, and especially those with low student achievement, have a credible plan to improve student outcomes and to make any necessary changes to policy and practice to ensure that Single Plans are effective, transparent tools for school improvement.

·       That the Board of Education take all urgent and bold action necessary in the case of schools that are found to be very low performing and to have insufficient or unrealized plans, to accelerate the pace of improvement at these schools in order to bring relief to the students who rely on these schools and their plans for academic achievement.

Thank you for your dedication to the children of Los Angeles and for your urgent attention to this matter.

Seth Litt

Executive Director

Parent Revolution