Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, right, with students at Miles Avenue Elementary School in Huntington Park.

Credit: Twitter / LAUSDSup

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Parents and guardians of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District offer mixed reviews of the nation’s second-largest school district, scoring it low on how it disseminates information and considers parents’ perspectives but generally high on the quality of education their children are receiving. Specifically, less than a quarter give the district an “A,” according to the Family Insights survey, conducted by GPSN and Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Equity for English Learners.  

The 2023 survey also marks the second year of the district’s four-year strategic plan under Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who garnered approval from two-thirds of survey respondents. 

Forty-one percent of parents in the survey give district schools a ‘B’ overall — and 43% give the same grade to their children’s individual campus. 

“Families generally feel positive about the quality of teaching and instruction in their direct school and their own child’s academic performance, but gave mixed results on the district’s overall performance,” according to the report.

“Raising up family perspectives on the state of the district and its performance is key this year when we may expect to see progress from the many investments made to address learning loss and other impacts of the pandemic on students.” 

The Penta Group, an independent research firm, surveyed a random sample of more than 500 district parents and guardians between Aug. 22 and Sept. 14, 2023 — asking them about the district’s progress and what they would like to see LAUSD focus on. 

The survey sample was representative of Los Angeles families “with students attending district, magnet, pilot, and both affiliated and independent charter public schools, and aligns with key demographic variables of enrollment by grade level, race/ethnicity, school type, English learner status, language spoken in the home, board district enrollment, and family income level.”


According to the report, parents throughout the district say they are satisfied with their children’s education and would like to see LAUSD invest in more enrichment opportunities and individualized support. However, many do not understand how their child or the district as a whole is performing. 

Specifically, 82% of parents surveyed say instruction at their children’s school is “good” or “excellent.” 

Parents’ broader perception of LAUSD’s academic performance, however, paints a different picture. A little more than half of parents think the majority of district students perform at grade level in reading and math. 

Three-quarters of LAUSD parents surveyed also think their own child is performing at grade level in core subject areas. 

In reality, however, 41% of students in the district met state standards in English language arts this past year, while 30.5% met state standards in math, according to state standardized test scores. 

“As a family member, a parent or a guardian, you’re looking for the basic thing: Can my kids read? Can they do math at whatever level you think that’s appropriate?” said Ana Teresa Dahan, GPSN’s managing director. 

“But … what type of words you’re reading and what your comprehension is really what differentiates having a basic skill versus being at grade level, and I think that’s like a nuance families don’t always understand.” 

Families that make more than $60,000 are more likely to believe their child is performing adequately, the survey found. In contrast, only 28% of low-income families and 27% of families of English learners have the same confidence in their child performing at grade level. 

“When you’re sending your kids to your neighborhood public school, there’s a trust that … the school is delivering on getting your kids at grade level,” Dahan said. “Unless someone is telling them that that’s not happening, I think they just inherently are trusting that it’s occurring.” 

In previous years, the survey revealed a high demand for additional academic support as well as after-school and summer enrichment opportunities. And this year, the number of parents calling for that assistance — including one-on-one tutoring — increased even more.

Parents “recognize and respect the challenges schools are facing and teachers are facing” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dahan said. “You can’t just expect a teacher or the school to solve the entire challenge of what the pandemic brought to students and families and communities.” 

Fifty-six percent of parents name high-quality tutoring as their top priority for the district as a whole —– marking a 25 percentage point increase over the past two years. Meanwhile, 54% say they want to see LAUSD offer free, widely accessible summer programs. 

And specifically at their child’s school, 85% of parents — and 93% of English learner families — say they want one-on-one or group tutoring on campus.

More than half of parents surveyed also voiced strong support for enrichment programs, including arts programs, sports and coding. 

“We’re also seeing, for students in particular, what those 18 months of isolation did,” Dahan said.

“Families are recognizing (that) impact (on) their students, whether that means not wanting to go to school or not being happy at home. … They know that straight learning at school isn’t going to bring back the joy, right? So, it’s the enrichment opportunities that do that.”

Emotional support 

Additional support for students’ mental health is also a top concern among the parents, with 45% of respondents naming counseling and therapy as their third priority for the district overall. 

In comparison, 32% of parents made the same request in 2021, and 44% called for the same in 2022. 

Food assistance 

For the first time in the survey’s history, 38% of families called for food assistance to be more readily available on their child’s campus. 

“The district has done a lot in the years (to feed students)” Dahan said. 

“We know that the people most impacted coming out of the pandemic … continue to be families in low-income households. And, as different government financial support has faded away, I think we’re starting to see the effects of that in LAUSD.” 

Internet connectivity 

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, LAUSD promised to provide a laptop to every student and provide free internet access to families in need. But now, nearly three-quarters of the families surveyed said they experience a barrier to consistent, quality internet access. That number, however, marks a 10% improvement since 2021. 

This year, 42% say the cost of internet is a barrier, while 34% said their challenges had more to do with securing a good quality connection. 

Twenty-six percent, however, attribute their challenges to their geographical area.

Community involvement and communication 

Parents also said they feel their input is increasingly insignificant to the district — and that they would like communication from LAUSD to improve, especially concerning academic standards. 

Specifically, the number of parents who feel their thoughts matter “a great deal in school and district decisions” decreased by 9 percentage points, only accounting for 40% in 2023. That drop was even larger for low-income families, the study found. 

Meanwhile, most families applaud LAUSD for timely and accessible communications, but more than half also say it “takes a lot of effort” to understand the messages. 

Forty-eight percent of parents say they want to receive district communications via an app, while 44% said they prefer email. 

More than half of the parents also say they want more information about academic standards and a better idea about what their child is learning in the classroom. Fifty-two percent also said they want to know whether district students are performing at grade level in the main subject areas. 

“We want to ensure that families receive accessible and understandable information that aligns with their expectations and needs,” Dahan said. “That’s also going to be a factor not only just accessing programs, but their understanding of where their child is.” 

A future in LAUSD 

Despite mixed reviews in various areas, about 90% of families said they would likely keep their children in the district until they graduate from high school. 

Respondents who said they are “extremely likely” to keep their children enrolled in the district, however, dropped by about 18 percentage points in the past year from 53% to 35%, according to the study. And the number of families who are “not very or not at all likely to stay” in LAUSD has increased from 3% to 8%.

Forty-two percent of families that voiced an interest in leaving the district — which included disproportionate rates of low-income families, families of English learners and white families — said they would most likely pursue a charter school. 

Private schools lagged in popularity for those considering leaving the district and would be the first choice of roughly 32% of families, while 28% said they would take their child to a public school in another district altogether. 

“Whatever perspective families had about communications, or even their policies, the district (and the superintendent) really did rate high,” Dahan said. 

“Effective leadership plays a pivotal role in driving school improvement and meeting the diversities of our community. I think that is a signal that families think that the district is going in the right direction. It also underscores the importance of sustained leadership support in fulfilling these aspirations of our families and kind of fostering a thriving educational environment.”

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