USC Rossier Researchers Present Findings from LAUSD’s Public School Choice Initiative
By Andrea Bennett
USC Rossier Professors Julie Marsh and Katharine Strunk presented preliminary findings from their study of Los Angeles Unified School District’s Public School Choice Initiative (PSCI) at a convening at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles on November 14.
John Deasy, LAUSD superintendent, delivered opening remarks at the convening, which was co-hosted by the district, USC Rossier School of Education, United Way and UNITE LA. He spoke about the importance of the bold initiative, which was adopted in 2009 with the long-term goal of creating “diverse options for high quality educational environments, with excellent teaching and learning, for students’ academic success,” according to the PSCI resolution. Yolie Flores, former LAUSD school board member, also addressed the audience.
Marsh and Strunk presented key findings from the first three years of their research on PSCI, which allowed teams of internal and external stakeholders, such as local educators, community members and organizations, charter school operators, nonprofit organizations, and labor partners, to compete to manage a designated “focus” or “relief” school.
Focus schools were in the bottom one percent of low-performing LAUSD public schools, and relief schools were new schools established to ease overcrowding in year-round schools. The initiative also aimed to give families and communities within LAUSD new opportunities to play an active role in improving their local public schools.
The USC researchers are conducting a four-year study of the initiative’s implementation and outcomes with support from a highly competitive $6-million federal Investing In Innovation (i3) grant. Their presentations at the research convening highlighted the early impacts of the reform on student achievement and suspension rates, the challenges and successes in early implementation, the changes in the quantity and quality of parent engagement over time, and the way in which politics shaped and was shaped by the policy over time.
Preliminary analyses suggest that PSCI schools from the first cohort of the reform show an initial dip in student achievement in the first year of operation and increases in student achievement in the second year of operation.
In terms of early implementation, Rossier researchers reported mixed levels of understanding and support from stakeholders, and a lack of understanding among many teams of the autonomies afforded by governance models selected. Marsh and Strunk also found the district attracted diverse actors to participate in teams but faced challenges attracting applicant teams, particularly in the later years.
Marsh and Strunk also found that higher quality school plans were generally selected in the first three years of PSCI. Their research also found that in all three years the number of parents providing input into plan selection was quite low and that the nature of parent meetings shifted over time. For example, appeals to parents shifted from emotional to reason-based and conversations become more reciprocal over time.
Their research also indicates that, although designed to improve accountability and learning for low-performing schools and students, PSCI’s enactment at times became a broader referendum on school governance and reform in general, including inspiring the formation of a new coalition of community organizations that could continue to shape policy in LAUSD in coming years.