Justice for All Starts with LAUSD

Fiction stories borrow from reality. However, in Los Angeles pockets of poverty are far from fiction – they’re reality.

Take a look at the lives of the nearly 58,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County today. For many, their story of homelessness began in the classroom. As tragic as these statistics are now, imagine what our city will be like in 10 to 20 years if we continue to allow 45 percent of children to graduate from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) high schools without the knowledge and skills necessary to avoid poverty.  

Help write a new story where in the end, all Los Angeles youth have meaningful choices after they collect their diploma. The first chapter of this story begins with LAUSD stepping in-and-up as a role model for policy changes that raise expectations of our students and schools so that our future is brighter – and so that other regions across California have a beacon to follow.

We applaud LAUSD’s efforts to invest in underfunded schools and high-need students, and the improvements in the last few years have been heartening, including a nine percent increase in college and career readiness completion rates.

But we must aim higher.

Completion of “A-G” courses – specifically with a “C” or better – dictate who graduates and who gets into college, however the system is flawed. By 2023, all graduates should have the necessary supports to get a “C” or better in their “A-G” courses (such as English, Math, Science and History) so they can have meaningful college and career readiness options after graduation. The current standard of “Ds get degrees” is not working and the threat of an impoverished final chapter looms for hundreds of LAUSD students. According to the Campaign for College Opportunity, California needs at least 60 percent of youth to have some kind of degree or certification by 2025 in order to maintain a stable economy. LAUSD is the largest district in the state (the second largest in the nation) and must be accountable for their role in meeting that demand.  

The following sections shine a light on what is happening right now in LAUSD schools.

Let’s focus on transparency. The top priority in LAUSD’s 2016-2019 strategic plan is to achieve 100 percent graduation; however, there are many details that aren’t addressed by focusing on the graduation rate alone. For example, while we certainly should celebrate an increased graduation rate of 77 percent, we should also recognize that half of LAUSD graduates had Ds on their transcripts in “A-G” coursework and therefore weren’t afforded the option to continue on to a four-year university. Since “A-G” expectations are so low, far too many students are graduating without “the knowledge and skills to pursue their aspirations” as promised in LAUSD’s strategic plan.

Let’s support more on the nearly 419,000 high-need students, the “have nots” of LAUSD. In the last few years, LAUSD dedicated less than five percent of its overall budget to intentionally supporting the needs of historically underserved populations (defined as English Learners, low income, and foster/homeless youth). This leaves a large segment of our community left behind with less resources. We’ve got to do more to improve the alarming statistics that tell us only 47 percent of African-American, 54 percent of Latino, and 26 percent of English Learner graduates were college eligible last year.

Let’s reward heroes who launch efforts to transform policy and demand equity. They are not afraid of demanding more from a system that allows students to graduate high school without mastery of core A-G subjects. They are not afraid of telling students that “below average” in life is not OK. We all know that this is not OK. We must advocate for our youth and challenge LAUSD to prevent pathways that accept mediocrity.

There is no question that college attainment and employment after high school provides the only path to upward economic mobility. Education can and must break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Our failure to graduate as many college eligible students from high school as possible is a critical misstep in meeting the needs of our community.

On June 12, the LAUSD school board will vote on a resolution aimed at helping to close the gap for students. We must act now to influence policy change so that within five years, all graduates will have meaningful options after graduation.

The Los Angeles community needs to come together and take action. Attend school board meetings and voice your opinion, talk to your son or daughter and encourage them to join you, network with other parents and help spread the word. Demand that LAUSD invest in a bright future for every student now to give every child choice, voice and a viable future.

Get involved. Change the end of LA’s story today.

This opinion piece was written on behalf of Jeanne Fauci and Nadia Diaz Funn.

Jeanne Fauci is co-founder of Center for Powerful Public Schools, overseeing all operations and programs. She supports the development of Pilot Schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), coaches educators on all aspects of designing and implementing small district and charter schools and works to establish the conditions within school districts for sustainable, equitable, learner-centered small schools. Additionally, Ms. Fauci leads the Linked Learning Center focused on implementing the Linked Learning Initiative at LAUSD and southern California high schools. Formerly, Ms. Fauci was the Director of Wildwood School Outreach Center where she designed, coordinated and presented numerous professional development workshops on essential elements of high functioning 21 st century schools including school culture, advisory programs, and project-based learning. She is the lead author of The Advisory Toolkit, a book and DVD on how to establish a successful secondary school advisory program. A graduate of Pratt Institute, Ms. Fauci received the 2008 Coalition of Essential Schools Transformational Leadership Award for her commitment to improve educational outcomes for underserved students in LAUSD Local District 4.


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Nadia Funn

Nadia Funn

Nadia Diaz Funn is executive director of the Alliance for a Better Community, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote economic prosperity of the Latino community and the Los Angeles region, inclusive of an improved quality of life for Latinos in education, health and civic participation. Born and raised in unincorporated East Los Angeles, she attended local Catholic and public schools wherein her passion for learning and desire for social justice was seeded and nurtured by great teachers, counselors, coaches and principals. Through the support of her community and hard work of her parents, she was one of the first in her family to attend and graduate from college. Her experiences as a first generation Latina college student were foundational in her life’s work as an advocate for high quality public education. Nadia currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Kyle, and two young sons, Aidan and Evan.

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