The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), is expected to vote on a proposal June 24 to implement a new “Small School Initiative” that will minimize large classroom sizes and possibly improve test scores of students, particularly African American youth in grades kindergarten through 12.
It has become a major concern of some LAUSD officials that their campuses are too massive and their classrooms are overcrowded. A majority of district high schools, 86 percent, exceed the state average of 1,519 students per campus; 96 percent of middle schools exceed the state average of 834; and 51 percent of elementary schools exceed the state average of 535.
Supporters say the new Small School Initiative policy would transform the entire LAUSD system by decreasing classroom sizes. All existing schools with 2,000 or more students would be divided into four or more smaller schools within a campus, and each would not surpass 500 students (400 in middle schools).
Newly built schools as well as future campuses would be designed to meet the new small school standards.
The goal is for all large schools to be transformed into small schools by 2020, and although these schools will be located on the site of the old large schools, each would be completely independent from one another and treated as a unique school. Each would have its own County District School code, budget, principal and staff.
According to Yoli Aguilar Flores, vice president of the LAUSD board, parents, and the community will have much more involvement in the way each school is run and operated.
During a community forum in the Crenshaw area last week, Flores presented research that showed almost 75 percent of LAUSD students are from economically disadvantaged families, and more than 90 percent are children of color.
Consequently, if the small school policy is approved and successful, Flores and supporters believe it could significantly affect African American and Latino students. Statistically, African American students academically are fairing below their Caucasian peers. Many black students are not even performing at current grade level.
A study of LAUSD seventh graders found that only 24 percent of African Americans, 30 percent of Latinos, and 63 percent of Caucasians are proficient in math.
Studies detailed at the community forum also showed smaller schools have many benefits over large schools such as: Improved academic performance by students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds; safer environments and less vandalism and violence; more parent and community involvement; greater teacher satisfaction and retention; better attendance; reduced dropout rates; and higher graduation and college-going rates.
The Small School Initiative should not be confused with LAUSD’s current program called the Small Learning Communities (SLC), operating on some school sites. SLCs are environments created within an existing school where small groups of teachers and students are grouped together to focus on a specific career theme.
The biggest difference between SLC and Small Schools is that SLCs are not separate schools, which means they don’t have the autonomy a small school would. However, SLCs have already proven to be effective in terms of improving teaching and learning conditions for students, and Flores said, “SLCs are the first steps to the vision of Small Schools … now we [LAUSD] want to take it a step further.”
Although Flores is pushing the belief that the Small School policy could provide a better education for minority students, some community members are skeptical.
During the community forum at the National Council of Negro Women headquarters, some voiced their frustration. One woman criticized the District’s past inactive response to the current status of schools and questioned its ability to carry out the new small school policy.
Community residents also questioned how budget cuts might affect the new policy, if approved.
Flores, acknowledged community members concerns, and noted that research has found that small school cost 17 percent less to operate than larger schools.
She added that support from the community will play a major role in making the proposal a reality instead of “just another idea,” and said the more people that show up to the board meeting on June 24 in favor of the small school initiative, the more likely the policy will be approved.