Report 2001-124 Summary - June 2002

Los Angeles Unified School District:

Outdated, Scarce Textbooks at Some Schools Appear to Have a Lesser Effect on Academic Performance Than Other Factors, but the District Should Improve Its Management of Textbook Purchasing and Inventory

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) concludes that:

  • Although we found more classes in low-performing schools that did not have enough textbooks for each student, we cannot conclude that the higher prevalence of textbook shortages has a direct relation to their school performance.

  • Factors such as the number of credentialed teachers; the level of parents' education; and students' transiency and socioeconomic statusdo appear to affect school performance.

  • LAUSD does not always spend its restricted textbook and other instructional materials funds appropriately, and it spends, on average, less per student than other large districts in the State for these resources.

  • LAUSD has made minimal efforts to ensure that publishers equitably provide free instructional materials to its school, as state law requires.

  • LAUSD needs to manage its textbook inventories better to ensure that each student has a current textbook and to assist the public in assessing school quality.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The largest school district in California and the second largest district in the nation, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), serves more than 730,000 students in 677 schools. In requesting this audit, the Legislature was primarily concerned about whether LAUSD's low-performing schools are affected by the quality and quantity of their textbooks. Our audit of 16 schools did not reveal any significant differences between high- and low-performing schools regarding textbooks. For example, both use outdated texts; however, low-performing schools were more likely to have shortages and restrict textbook use to the classroom. We cannot conclude that the higher prevalence of textbook shortages we found in low-performing schools has a direct relation to their Academic Performance Index. However, several other factors do appear to affect school performance, such as the number of credentialed teachers; the level of parents' education; and students' transiency, socioeconomic status, and English proficiency.

With LAUSD's budget uncertainties and the potential loss of about $40 per student in Schiff-Bustamante Standards-Based Instructional Materials Program funding, it is increasingly important for LAUSD to have effective control over and use of its textbooks and textbook funding. However, we found that LAUSD does not always spend its textbook funds for textbooks and other instructional materials, as state law requires. In addition, LAUSD spends on average less per student for textbooks, other books, and instructional materials than other large districts in the State. For example, in fiscal year 2000-01, San Bernardino Unified School District told us it spent an average of $329 per student for books and other instructional materials while LAUSD spent only $127 per student for books and other instructional materials.

Moreover, LAUSD can improve its control and management over textbook purchases and inventories. In what is called the most-favored-nations clause, state law requires publishers to provide free instructional materials to any school district purchasing textbooks in California to the same extent as they provide them to school districts elsewhere in the United States. However, LAUSD has made minimal efforts to ensure that publishers are complying with this law, thereby denying some schools the opportunity to receive valuable free instructional materials that other schools received when purchasing similar textbooks. Moreover, the California Department of Education (department) can do more to ensure that school districts are made aware of publisher offerings of free instructional materials. LAUSD spends roughly $22 million per year on textbooks, and we estimate that the value of the free materials associated with these purchases could be as much as $15.6 million to $19.4 million per year. Statewide, in fiscal year 2000-01 schools purchased textbooks valued at about $488 million, potentially placing the annual value of free materials at between $346 million and $430 million. Currently, LAUSD has its schools purchase their own texts. Centralizing this function would make it easier to monitor publishers and ensure that they treat schools fairly.

LAUSD spent nearly $2 million to implement an electronic textbook inventory system that is not widely used. This system helps manage textbook inventories to ensure that each student has a current textbook and to facilitate the disposal of obsolete textbooks. Further, a comprehensive textbook inventory system would allow LAUSD to comply with the state law requiring schools to publish on the Internet information about the quantity and type of textbooks they use so the public can assess school quality. Finally, a fully operational inventory tracking system would aid LAUSD's efforts to hold students accountable for lost or damaged textbooks.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To make sure students have the best opportunity to succeed academically, LAUSD should enforce its existing policy requiring every student to have a textbook for use in class and at home in core subject areas.

To ensure that publishers are treating all California schools equitably, the department should modify its regulations or seek legislation if necessary to require publishers and manufacturers to report, at a minimum, all offers of free instructional materials for Kindergarten through grade 12 within 30 working days of the effective date of the offer. Further, the department should maintain a comprehensive Web site that contains this information and should require publishers to report to the department in a standard electronic format.

To ensure that its schools are treated fairly by publishers, LAUSD should make all textbook purchasers aware of the most-favored-nations clause, ensure that purchasers have access to current publisher-generated lists of prices and free materials, and require purchasers to use the lists when ordering textbooks and free materials. LAUSD should also periodically monitor the prices its schools pay for textbooks and the free materials they receive for similar purchases and pursue cost recovery for any exceptions found.

To improve its textbook-purchasing process and ensure equitable publisher treatment, LAUSD should centralize its textbook-purchasing function at LAUSD or its local districts.

To improve its textbook inventory systems and to comply with the state law requiring it to publish lists of texts used in its schools, LAUSD should proceed with its plans to develop a centralized textbook inventory system. The system should include all texts and other instructional materials at each school and include ongoing standardized training and both implementation and technical support.

AGENCY COMMENTS

LAUSD agrees with our audit findings and with most of our audit recommendations. However, LAUSD does not agree with our recommendation to consider modifying its technology plan to aim for a goal of a student-to-computer ratio of five to one rather than six to one. In addition, LAUSD does not agree that it should modify its accounting system to include the International Standard Book Number to track purchases of the same book made by different schools and generate reports that would allow it to audit publisher invoices. LAUSD states that it lacks available resources to implement these recommendations.

The department has agreed to study our recommendations. However, it believes that unless changes to statutes and regulations are made, it does not have the authority to require publishers and manufacturers to report all gratis offerings for grades 9 through 12.


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