Silly Parents, We'll Tell You What to Look For

"Families have a right to know how well public schools are performing across a variety of measures (encompassed by a summative, overall rating), so that they can better understand the diverse options within the District"

- LAUSD Res-036-17/18

When my oldest child was born, I was relieved to find out that she was a girl as this would mean I would not have to worry about dealing with sports. Of course, she turned out to be a jock and played baseball with the boys before transitioning to softball in high school. On the other hand, her younger brother was once given a black eye because he was looking at a butterfly as his sister threw a baseball at him. Instead of sports, my son preferred music and artistic endeavors. When I married my wife, I became a father to a set of triplets. Two of them are on the autism spectrum. One is mostly non-verbal and in her own world while the other is more communicative and a social butterfly. The third triplet is headed off to college next month, fluent in Mandarin and tackling a double-major in global studies. My wife and I worry that she won’t take her head out of a book long enough to experience everything that college has to offer.

My sample size of five has taught me that all children have different and unique personalities, needs and abilities. Expand the number of children in the sample and the diversity will increase accordingly. The advantage of having a district as large as the LAUSD is that parents have plenty of schools to choose from when looking for programs that meet the individual needs of their children. Unfortunately, the current District leadership feels that schools can be summed up by a “single, summative rating for each school, which is determined based upon performance within each (and all) of the included data measures”. Has “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” started playing in anyone else’s head?

The “Achieving Excellence for All: Establishing a Framework for Continuous Improvement” resolution has a title that starts with good intentions, but it immediately sheds students in its first “whereas” by stating that “all students [are] being prepared for college, career, and life”. This immediately excludes those children whose goals do not include college. It also ignores those who have severe disabilities that will prevent them from attending college or having a career. This continues a mistake made during the last iteration of the School Performance Framework. This document judged Special Education performance exclusively on the “percent of students with disabilities who are in the General Education Program at least 80% of the instructional day.” This criteria punished a school that devoted resources to serving a student like one of my daughters, who requires a special day program and has no ability to participate in a general education program in a way that would be meaningful to her or not be disruptive to her able-bodied peers.

The resolution is also filled with bureaucratic mumble-jumble that will guarantee that the final product will fail to meet its terms. Most glaringly, it specifies that “families have a right to know how well public schools are performing across a variety of measures (encompassed by a summative, overall rating)”. It also states that the draft framework must identify “schools within a clearly defined set of performance bands that differentiate performance level”. However, it also states that “the framework will not rank or grade schools”. Clearly, these requirements are not compatible. One cannot provide a single summative, overall rating and performance bands that do not ultimately rank or grade schools.

If the final document is to have any relevance to parents, it should be parents who design it with the information that they would like to see. As a comparison, the data provided in the previous School Performance Framework has little correlation with what my family looked for when searching for a college for my daughter. While the District’s report seems to focus on student achievement, our college search focused on how the school would perform in serving our daughter. We looked at data like the size of the classes, the age of the facilities, the tenure of the teachers and how the students performed after they received their diploma.

The  District has functioning parent organizations that are supposed to provide input to the District and could have been tasked with presenting a framework directly to the District for approval. Instead, the resolution mandates that the Superintendent (who has no experience in education) “to develop a draft recommended school performance framework” that will “be presented to the Board for their input before finalizing the tool”. He is required to get “input” from a working group that includes “teachers, administrators, parents, labor partners, community-based and civil rights organizations, researchers, subject matter experts, and charter partners, as well as staff from the District’s Division of Instruction, Office of Data and Accountability, Charter Schools Division, Office of School Design Options, Information and Technology Division, Human Resources, Parent Services, Federal and State Education Programs Branch, Local Districts and Board Offices”, but is not required to adopt their suggestions. As with past efforts, it appears that the District will tell parents what they want to see. Once again, the LAUSD has shown how little they really value parent engagement.