If the California Dream is really going to be available to all Californians, things have to change.
Our children have to be better prepared for school, complete graduation, attend college and be ready to compete in the dynamic 21st century economy.
And for too many, particularly economically challenged Latino and Black kids, we have fallen short. Why?
That’s a question driving the L.A. Compact–a large, regional effort in the state’s largest county to close the education and workforce gaps caused by systemic inequities and racism.
The beginning of the answer starts with understanding where we are.
So, the L.A. Compact — which boasts 23 key elected officials, K-12 and higher education institutions and workforce leaders among its signees — recently released a robust Charting Progress data dashboard to track progress toward improving outcomes.
The dashboard tracks a broad group of metrics like early care and education enrollment, high school graduation and dropout rates, college enrollment post-high school, and disconnected youth percentages.
“Using data is a tool to improve our systems and increase achievement for our youth,” said David Rattray, president and CEO of UNITE-LA, during a recent webinar that featured Los Angeles educational and workforce leaders. “We think this can be invaluable to meet our goal that every L.A. County child and youth is prepared to be a lifelong learner.”
UNITE-LA, the L.A. Compact and Southern California Grantmakers produced the webinar, which emphasized the importance of data to define what the big issues are so that those who are trying to improve outcomes are working on the right things.
“And that’s the key. If we are going to change the lives of many Californians, we have to invest time and treasure in areas that matter,” said Micah Weinberg, CEO of California Forward. “This data dashboard is exactly the type of tool that L.A. educational and workforce leaders can turn into meaningful action.”
The leader of the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) agrees.
“That which we don’t measure, doesn’t improve,” said Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez, who was joined on the virtual panel by Los Angeles Board of Education President Kelly Gonez, Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) CEO Bill Allen, and First 5 LA Chief Data Officer Dr. Kimberly Hall.
“The K-12 data are a powerful tool that [LAUSD] can utilize in our work,” said Gonez. “This can help us meet the unique needs of our students.”
The influence of the pandemic is obvious in some of the data, and as Dr. Hall noted, it has hit pre-school education efforts very hard. The child care sector has been devastated by the pandemic—a full 20% of the preschools that First 5 LA oversees have been closed.
Dr. Rodriguez noted that LACCD is serving 20% fewer students this year and that groups particularly hard hit have been single Black and Latina women aged 24 to 36.
Also discussed were the necessities of employers who desperately need a trained workforce in the Los Angeles region. The region needs more workers prepared for this fast-changing 21st century economy. But LAEDC’s Bill Allen knows developing trained workers doesn’t start just when the worker is looking for a job.
“We have an incredibly diverse and abundant workforce, and to the extent to which we invest from the earliest ages of our children, the better our future will be,” he said.
The L.A. Compact is working to close the education and workforce gaps caused by systemic inequities and racism. The dashboard was put in digital form because UNITE-LA plans to update it at least quarterly. It aspires to be a place that will provide a comprehensive (and current) picture of how Los Angeles’ children and youth are doing from cradle through career.
People we spoke with emphasized over and over that the dashboard will only bring value if it gets us to do things more effectively.
“These data are important only to the extent that they are used to effect real change in our systems and organizations–real change that dismantles systemic racism and supports L.A. youth from cradle to career so they can achieve their educational and career goals and ensure the future prosperity of our dynamic region,” said UNITE-LA’s Dr. Lisa Catanzarite who led the L.A. Compact Data Work Group.
The timing for this tool is right. Now is an opportune time to advance momentum for systems change in Los Angeles given that LAUSD has a new Superintendent in Alberto Carvalho and Los Angeles will be electing a new mayor this fall.
Dr. Manuel Pastor, USC Distinguished Professor and director of the USC Dornsife Equity Research Institute, believes that tackling racial equity issues is critical to L.A.’s economic vitality:
“Study after study shows that those regions that are able to close the gap are those that are able to generate prosperity,” he said.