New Schools, Overcrowding Relief, and Achievement Gains in Los Angeles – Strong Returns from a $19.5 Billion Investment

Year of publication: 
August 2012
Publication: 
Policy Analysis for California Education

Aiming to relieve overcrowded schools operating on multiple tracks, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has invested more than $19 billion to build 130 new facilities over the past decade. In a new PACE policy brief, William Welsh, Erin Coghlan, Bruce Fuller, and Luke Dauter from the University of California – Berkeley analyze the effects on student achievement of this massive initiative. Tracking thousands of students who moved from overcrowded to new facilities over the 2002-2008 period, the authors discovered robust achievement gains for many students.

Elementary-school pupils who switched from an old facility to a newly constructed facility experienced significant achievement gains. On average, these ‘switching pupils’ outpaced the average LAUSD student by a gain equal to about 35 additional days of instruction each year. The largest achievement gains were found for elementary students who escaped severe overcrowding by moving to a new elementary school. Relative to the rate of learning for the average LAUSD student, this subset of students enjoyed achievement gains equivalent to about 65 days of additional instruction per year. Students who remained in previously overcrowded elementary schools experienced modest gains after a new school opened nearby, compared with the average LAUSD student.

Significant achievement gains were limited to elementary school students. New high school facilities produced weak and inconsistent achievement gains at best for their students.

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