Parents need more help choosing schools in Los Angeles, report says

Despite the school district’s promises and efforts to simplify its systems, choosing a public school for your child in Los Angeles is not for the faint of heart. Various campuses and programs have different deadlines, forms and application rules.

A new report from the local group Parent Revolution asserts that parents are dissatisfied and poorly served by a system that makes access to high-quality programs complicated and especially challenging for unsophisticated or low-income families.

The group behind the report is best known for using the state’s “parent trigger” law to organize parents to force change at schools with low test scores — either through restaffing or turning them into charter schools. Its critics accuse the group of a pro-charter bias, which it denies. The group’s new report is based on results from the first year of its privately funded effort to assist parents in choosing schools.

The report is based on surveys and interviews with the families of 515 South Los Angeles students who submitted applications with the group’s help, as well as other families that did not complete the entire process. 

“Public school choice in Los Angeles is complex and it takes some degree of savvy to navigate on the district side and on the charter school side,” said Seth Litt, Parent Revolution’s executive director.

Charters are independently operated and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. Families can apply to any charter, but each has its own timeline and process. Add charters to the mix of traditional public school offerings and families face “a daunting landscape of more than 200 separate applications and deadlines,” the report says. “This situation favors families who have the most time, education and resources.”

And even having the time to sort through them all may not be enough.

“Even if a family were to build their own spreadsheet or list to evaluate their options, they would find inconsistent school information and lack of quantitative data on student academic performance,” the report says.

In the end, parents counseled by Parent Revolution split fairly evenly in choosing charter- and district-operated schools, Litt said. And the counseling may have helped: Almost 80% of families who applied to two or more schools got into at least one of them; 65% of families who applied to just one school got in.

L.A. Unified does not deny the underlying problem. By next fall, officials said, it hopes to have one site for all of its programs with fewer separate application timelines — though independent charters will not be included.

Another group has taken a different approach to helping parents. A coalition of local organizations, spearheaded by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, has created a “Parent Toolkit,” which explains how school funding works and provides checklists to drive parents’ questions and understanding of the public school system.

howard.blume@latimes.com

@howardblume

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