Demographics about the 2018-19 LAUSD school year immediately prior to the Covid-19 pandemic were published in June 2019 here. Following are comparable charts, graphs and statistics for 2020-21, the LAUSD school year following the covid closure of March 13, 2020.
The original text, charts, graphs, figures and statistics may provide useful context, so side-by-side comparison with the 2019 article is likely necessary for a better narrative flow.
Alternative Schools Of Choice have supplanted regular elementary, middle and high schools
During the two years preceding the pandemic, the number of intermediate and high schools each dropped by 8% (n=12 and 13) overall (table 1). For high schools the loss was evenly distributed among magnet and non-magnet, and more magnet-heavy for middle schools. District high schools dropped 15% (n=14). There were ten net new charters, mostly elementary.
The notable change is that LAUSD opened twice the “Alternative Schools of Choice”, mostly magnet schools, as well as six additional magnet schools classified among regular elementary schools. As “Schools of Choice” with additional federal funding, magnet schools originated as integration tools with a strong curricular focus. Magnets have been heralded as a stop-gap to halt the flow of students from district public schools to privatized charter schools.
Whether superficial rebranding, substantive alternative or bookkeeping restructure, overall numbers might not necessarily reflect meaningful shifting of school-“type”; statistics do not show whether these serve essentially similar communities.
Most of the increase in charter schools (CS) comes at the county level where elementary CS more than doubled (table 2). Nearly 30% of the schools in LAUSD’s footprint are charter schools (306/1054). The County has authorized an additional 30% more schools (36 up from 26) in just two years.
The incentive of school’s academic or management oversight is belied when a superseding authority is mandated to issue a charter denied at the subordinate level. The nested oversight of local -> County -> State provides a regulatory workaround for confidence lost.
And “charter market share” gained has not even been calculated here (table 4 below) from among these work-around authorizers. Strictly the “pure” calculation from within-LAUSD alone has been used in reckoning progress on the Broad plan of charter transformation (figure 2 below).
While the LAUSD has been politically redistricted in 2021 (figure 1), these data are categorized according to the old district map, with its severe SE-NE gerrymandering. That gerrymander remains, with connecting landbridge simply flipped westward to incorporate, and divide, Asian communities.
The geographic concentration of charter schools among board districts is not appreciably changed by the influx of County-authorized charters (table 3); the distribution is largely unchanged. The Hispanic, unincorporated sections of LAUSD’s eastward footprint (LAUSD2) retain approximately twice the total number of charter schools as the district with the least number of these (LAUSD7). Though the County-authorized schools are largely absent from the two most wealthy districts, LAUSD3/4.
It is in those wealthier districts that almost all affiliated charter enrollment is contained (see figures 6 and 8 below). Their “charter share”, is increasing in LAUSD4. So even while the proportion of school sites in LAUSD2 that are chartered is half again more than in wealthy LAUSD3/4 (22% v. 15%/14%), the average proportion of students in LAUSD3 and LAUSD4 (excluding County/State) who are enrolled in charter schools is almost 47% of the regular K12 total population (67238/143029) (table 4).
That is without a lot of fanfare, the late Eli Broad’s $480m plan to “enroll half of LAUSD’s students in charter schools” has progressed apace. Across all board districts, there are currently 27.5% (155351/565073), or 2/3 again as many LAUSD students enrolled in 2020-21 charter schools as the “16%” reported by the Times in 2015. (Note that Broad’s secret 2015 memo calculated this figure as 25% not 16%, see figure 2).
Variation of reports and statistics
Note well how these numbers can be scrutinized from various – and different – angles, resulting quite legitimately (and confusingly) in statistics of different shades. For example, the California Department of Education (from which authority all numbers presented here are extracted) reports enrollment differently in an ethnicity database than in a database of “Free and Reduced Price Meal” (FRPM) counts. And these numbers are reported variously too. Both my demographic studies focus on “K-12” students (grade), even while analysis from, say, a fiscal standpoint might better concern “5-17 years old” (age) since this is the age range that conforms with federal reimbursements. Refocusing count from K-12 (grade) to 5-17 yo (age) will affect various statistics, eg FRPM eligibility (see from table 6 below onward). The cohort characterized by age is poorer than that characterized by grade, affecting school’s Title 1 (poverty) status (figure 8).
Likewise counting charters or associated enrollment within LAUSD’s footprint as opposed to those authorized directly by LAUSD will affect percentages, etc. Counting is tricky, and it matters. For this reason general trend is at least as illuminating as specific statistics.
The overall relative distribution of ethnicities remains similar pre- and post-covid. Hispanics remain predominant though African Americans and White students are fewer; students of “other” ethnicity, particularly those identified as from two or more races, are proportionately greater (figures 3 and 8).
Ethnic distribution of district and independent charters remains far more alike than that of affiliated charter’s. Two or more races are more widely reported than in 2018-19 (table 5), enough so to effect ethnic distributions, though it is possible the change is an artifact of data collection.
Overall numbers and ethnic distribution across school districts vary as much as previously (figure 4), with African American attendance predominant in LAUSD1/7 and White attendance in LAUSD3/4. The proportion of Hispanics is up in all board districts.
Enrollment across school-types
Overall enrollment has dropped on average 9% across all districts over the five years between SY 2016-17 to 2020-21 (figure 5). Enrollment drop has been smallest in the wealthiest board districts LAUSD3/4.
Charters have steadily comprised a greater percentage of the district’s “seats”, with independent charters slightly displacing affiliated charters in LAUSD3, and the proportion of affiliated charters growing in LAUSD4/6 (figure 6).
One surrogate measure of poverty is the percentage of children eligible for Free and Reduced Price Meals (FRPM). The range of the percentages of these schools speaks to the diversity within each board district (table 6, figure 7). Across all board districts the FRPM percentage is higher, for both average and minimum: the percentage of children qualifying for FRPM (ie, poverty) has increased throughout the district during the pandemic.
The distribution of schools’ FRPM percentage by quintiles shows more schools have a higher concentration of higher poverty than before the pandemic (figure 7). This is depicted by the “bunching” of mass upward. The range of FRPM is broad everywhere but a far higher concentration of relatively wealthier schools is localized in LAUSD3/4; their boxes are lower and more spread apart even while the range may be comparably broad.
Overall, there is very little demographic similarity between fiscally dependent charter schools and district schools (table 8). They have less than half the percentage FRPM-eligible students on average (figure 8); this disparity has lessened slightly with the pandemic. African American and Hispanic students are half the rate and falling in district and independent charters, Asians are 3x and Whites 6x, as numerous. However district schools are very demographically similar to fiscally independent charter schools (note carefully though, that other important demographic distinguishers like English-learner and special ed status are not considered here).
A visual analysis of this variation (figure 8) shows the stark dissimilarity of ethnic and economic indicators between school types.
Broken out by grades served (table 9), the distinction between district and independent charters, compared with fiscally affiliated charters, is far less dramatic in high schools.
Relatively wealthier high school students are not as disproportionately attracted to affiliated charters as among younger students. This trend was lessened somewhat post-covid as the pandemic increase in average FRPM is greater among district schools than affiliated charters.
The pandemic has imposed enormous and disproportionate strain on students and families. The loss of enrollment is well-remarked; its manifestation on other demographics less-so. But of greatest concern is the net result of a good crisis on long-arrayed reform stratagems like charter schools and other tools of privatization. Education must remain available as the means to navigate democracy with equal opportunity free of the inequity that befalls disaster capitalism.
The inexorable transformation of district schools into privatized palimpsests of public Education must not be permitted to endure.