L.A. schools learning loss days cost $611 per student a day

The two second-graders in Susana Cabello’s class received a brief but exclusive education during the Los Angeles school district’s winter break. Not only did you have Cabello’s undivided attention throughout the day, you also had that of a professional tutor.

However, this education booster came at a significant cost — about $611 per day per student for up to two additional “fast track” days. The same cost multiplied over a 180-day school year would amount to approximately $110,000 per student. For comparison, next year’s record federal education grant will provide $23,723 per public school student.

Bonus training on December 19th and 20th cost $36 million. After a heavy publicity rush, about 17% of the district’s 422,276 students have enrolled; However, according to newly released data, fewer than 9% or 36,486 surfaced.

As the district assesses the high cost and low attendance of the winter learning days paid for with one-time state and federal COVID-19 funds, some officials, teachers and parents are wondering whether millions more should be spent on similar efforts during the winter first two days of spring break.

Throughout Supt. Alberto Carvalho has consistently cited Acceleration Days as a worthwhile investment — citing Cabello’s class as one example among manys – others say another $30 to a few million could be better spent on other learning and enrichment needs.

“I still have a lot of questions,” said newly elected school board member Rocio Rivas, who represents a region that includes downtown and Boyle Heights. Rivas took office after the Board of Education approved the Acceleration Day plan.

“Those first two days of acceleration left a lot to be desired,” she said. “And yes, parents didn’t send their kids, so why should we spend another two days and see the same results? It will be a waste of money.”

From her point of view, the quality and organization of the offers vary greatly from campus to campus. She would also like a parent survey as part of the planning for the next few days in April.

Rivas said academic field trips might be a better investment. The parents had far-reaching suggestions, e.g. B. Making the campus safer or improving air filtration to curb the spread of flu, RSV and COVID-19.

Leaders of the country’s second-largest school system have pledged to prioritize learning recovery after test results showed setbacks in deep learning during the pandemic campus shutdown, followed by a year of skyrocketing absenteeism as COVID-19 waves continued. State test scores fell to their lowest level in about five years, pausing steady, incremental progress. And even before the pandemic, most district students were behind their grade level in math.

Carvalho sees value in the additional learning days that come with his initiatives.

“What we keep hearing from students … is if you gave us five days, we would have come for five days,” Carvalho said after visiting Cabello’s classroom.

“Some people say, ‘Oh my God. This lady was only dealing with two students.” Carvalho called this relationship “perfect”.

For the students who participated in the extra days, “it makes a big difference,” he said. “Do we have the capacity, the potential, to actually do more? Naturally.”

There were 10 students on the list for Cabello and tutor Ananna Ahamed. Three showed the first day and two the second.

Students in a dance class in the auditorium of an LA elementary school.

Students follow a teacher’s lead in a dance class at Alta Loma Elementary School in Los Angeles, part of a program to make the optional “Acceleration Day” engaging for students.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Originally, the county had planned to add four days of acceleration on Wednesdays at strategic points in the school year, which would have resulted in a four-day shift in the last day of school. Officials wanted to fit these extra and optional days into a normal school week so they would be seamless to the schedule and harder to avoid.

However, the teachers’ union threatened a boycott and filed a lawsuit in an effort to bring the calendar change to the negotiating table. The district relented and negotiated what Carvalho called Plan B, which had been expected all along to attract fewer students because the days fell on the winter vacation.

Board member Scott Schmerelson said Tuesday he was concerned some staff members may have discouraged families from attending, which is more a reflection of political infighting than a focus on what’s best for students.

“One of the problems we had was that it wasn’t encouraged enough by the teachers at school,” he said. “We should constantly urge the kids to go into acceleration and not use it as political football.”

Although there was no fixed attendance target by which to measure success or failure, Carvalho initially announced numbers that proved too high.

Towards the end of the second day of acceleration, Carvalho said attendance was 60,000-70,000 on day one and 50,000-60,000 on day two. A month later, at last week’s school board meeting, officials cut those numbers by about half. More precise figures were provided on Friday in response to a request from board member Nick Melvoin.

A total of 36,486 students took part in one or both days. On the first day, 32,390 attended; on the second 26,558 — 18% less. The total number of school days attended – 58,948 – works out to $611 per school day per student.

Despite the cost, School Board President Jackie Goldberg said she was cautiously encouraged because the vast majority of students who attended were identified as having special needs.

“If it wasn’t like that, if maybe parents were using it to babysit… during the holidays, I’d be like, ‘Oh my God!’ She said. “But if 83% of the kids that showed up were the kids we wanted to show up, that tells me maybe we’re on the right track.”

She added that she saw good teaching at the four campuses she attended.

Carvalho decided to open all 100 schools where students are struggling the most. This proved to be a key factor in participation, as relatively few families were willing to send students to an unfamiliar campus.

A selection that drove up costs also increased attendance. The district chose to accept any students who showed up, even if they hadn’t pre-registered – and 5,699 students did so.

However, because attendance numbers were so uncertain, the district was unable to predict staffing needs — and appeared to accept any teachers and staff who wished to work, resulting in what teachers described as extensive and expensive staffing. The administrators did not intend for class groups to be as small as they were.

Other problems emerged. Some teachers complained that they couldn’t plan effectively because they didn’t have advance access to rosters and student data. As part of the plan, students were divided into groups into those who needed to catch up and those who would receive an enrichment.

Andres Chait, director of school operations, told board members that this optional schooling is likely to see a high absenteeism rate. Thirty percent of those who signed up for the summer school — which is also optional — also didn’t show up, he noted. And nearly one in five students missed the last Friday before winter break, almost double the normal absentee rate.

Many secondary school students used the extra days to improve a grade or pass a course – although students could have handed in additional coursework completed at home. Several thousand students may have done so without attending the extra school days. The district extended the final grading window to Jan. 13, and officials said this week they are still compiling grading data.

Westside parent Basia Richard said she was frustrated that she found out at the last minute that the district had decided to open her child’s campus.

But she found the extra time at school positive.

“If I have the choice of her staying home and doing nothing and trying to entertain her, she might as well go to school,” Richard said. “She loves school. She learned a little. I saw no reason why she wouldn’t go.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-01-25/extra-l-a-schools-learning-loss-days-cost-611-per-student L.A. schools learning loss days cost $611 per student a day

Alley Einstein

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