Editorial: LAUSD’s efforts to address learning loss should inspire hope, not chaos and frustration
The first thing you notice about Los Angeles Unified School District is that it’s not very big, at least compared to big systems like the Los Angeles school district, Los Angeles County or the city of Boston. This little system—which has an enrollment of about 100,000—offers a range of excellent programs and is remarkably flexible in the ways it uses school resources.
But the big picture is that the district is facing the same wrenching challenge that has befallen others grappling with declining enrollment across the country: it’s losing students. The school year this fall was one of the lowest since 2000 in districtwide enrollment, and enrollment has dropped since 2008 when enrollment peaked at 1,500,000.
The district’s strategy to counter shrinking enrollment looks like an all-time classic. L.A. Unified now has one of the most sophisticated student data systems in the country, providing unprecedented information about students, families, schools, students’ home neighborhoods and more. It has invested heavily in creating neighborhood engagement strategies.
But you have to go way beyond the details to see how the district has taken such remarkable action to increase the quality and quantity of its learning—and all while retaining the high quality of its programs.
The district is doing something that it knows is right. And here’s the rub: there are no hard and fast rules for success. For some districts, such as Boston, it’s about having a strong academic program that is well-funded, with well-established partners and robust systems. But L.A. Unified has some very different challenges, and has the advantage of having a different approach to the challenge—and its success is the result of that approach.
How the district got here
The first major challenge was the need to change the way its students were evaluated and identified as learning losses. In the early 2000s, before L.A. Unified had invested in the kind of student data system that makes learning loss identification possible, it was using a manual system that left gaps between what students knew and what they could do.
But the information gap between what students knew and what they could do led to many