African-American students in Los Angeles County are currently facing a dual-threat of inadequate educational opportunities and support. It has been proven that social and environmental factors have also placed their educational and social development at significant risk. A recent study published by UCLA graduates exhibits Black students in LA County disproportionately attending schools that the state declared as “low-performing” or lack the critical resources needed to alleviate the many social and psychological needs of their students.
“The academic achievement of Black and low-income students in California has been a focus for many decades in schools. Yet our failure to recognize that schools alone cannot address poverty and unhealthy community conditions has made it more difficult for social policies to have a positive impact on the needs of our most vulnerable children,” Joseph Bishop, Director of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for the Transformation of Schools stated.
Researchers from the Center for the Transformation of Schools (CTS) and Black Male Institute (BMI) at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies released a new study on October 10, 2019, titled Beyond the Schoolhouse: Overcoming Challenges & Expanding Opportunity for Black Youth in Los Angeles County. The two groups collaborated for the joint project to develop a countywide strategic plan to improve the quality of life for Black children. They received funding for the study from the Hewlett Foundation, the California Endowment, the Broad Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, and the Office of Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas. Additionally, LA County Supervisor Ridley-Thomas hosted a community meeting at the Welnest Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center on October 9, 2019, to discuss the findings.
“Our hope is that this new study will not only make clear the urgency of the situation confronting Black students but that it will inform and fuel a strategic and comprehensive effort to address the accumulation of disadvantage confronting Black youth in order to improve educational and developmental outcomes,” Bishop added.
According to the “Beyond the Schoolhouse” study, in 2018, African-American students were the top ethnic group in LA County to not meet the standard on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). While 42% of Black students did not meet the SBAC standard for English, 54% of Black students also did not meet the SBAC standard for Math. Additionally, LA County Black students had the lowest college eligibility rates in 2018, with 45% of the students reportedly meeting the California State University and the University of California requirements. Black students are more likely to face punitive discipline as well. The chronic absenteeism and suspension rate for Black students in LA County is disproportionately higher than for all other racial groups, as stated in the report.
Although the 2001 installment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was established to reform schools and raise student achievement, numerous of schools in California are still lacking the critical resources like school counselors, nurses, and social workers, to adequately address and respond to the social and psychological needs of ethnic students. Studies show that Black students attend racially isolated schools, and live in impoverished communities that possess persistent racial wealth. Black communities are more likely to possess various environmental hazards that adversely impact the health of Black children and families. Findings show that the life expectancy for Black residents is lower than other racial groups.
Depicting his initial reaction to the study, Tyrone C. Howard, director of BMI and UCLA professor, disclosed, “For someone like me, this is even more depressing because I’m a product of Compton schools and LA County. So, this is personal for me. I’m proud of LA, and I’ll defend LA as long as I can. The more we uncovered this data, the more it saddens me because, in some ways, it feels like things are getting worse for Black students.”
“Part of really frustrates me is the fact that I think we as a state of California, we like to consider ourselves progressive and leaders in different fields. But, when you look at the data, we’re not as progressive, and far along with supporting Black students, as some other states, we tend to ridicule like Mississippi and Alabama. So, it’s frustrating for me, but at the same time it further energizes me to say, ‘we got to do something to end this ongoing tide of hopelessness for far too many Black children and families.'”
During the briefing, participants discussed the various causes of the disproportionate numbers of Black students facing hardships in LA County schools and community housing. Furthermore, essential meeting participants consisted of LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; President and Chief Executive Officer for The California Endowment Dr. Bob Ross; California State Senator Steven Bradford; Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District Austin Beutner; Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Debra Duardo, and others. Howard and his colleague Dr. Pedro Noguera, founder of CTS, strategically sought support from government officials, public health executives, mental health clinicians, community organizations, and educators. They spent the morning deliberating on possible action plans to combat the economic and social issues as well.
“I think the outcome of the meeting was mixed. A lot of folks in the room obviously felt like these weren’t new findings. I don’t think a lot of folks walked out of the room, surprised by what we showed. I felt, and I heard from people, a sense of urgency for us to do something. The question becomes, how do we maintain that momentum after the release of the report and a really powerful meeting,” Howard shared.
Since the meeting, Professor Howard and Dr. Noguera have devoted much of their time into building an advocacy team, implementing action plans, and networking throughout Southern California communities. Individual schools have already invited Professor Howard and Dr. Noguera to come in and share the “Beyond the Schoolhouse” data. During the next couple of months, the team intends to conduct forums like the community meeting, in community-based organizations around LA County. They also plan to talk to Black students in LA County directly about possible solutions.
Speaking on the call to action following the briefing, Howard proclaimed, “The second phase of the report will be us doing focus groups and interviews with Black students across the county. We want to know what Black students believe is happening, and more importantly, what they think they need in order to help disrupt some of these challenges. I think some young people have keen insights and perspectives that can help us, but yet we don’t oftentimes create platforms for them to talk.”
“Dr. Noguera and I are really committed to trying to continue to engage elected officials at the local, county, city, and even at the state level. We can’t just keep talking about this. We put forth some recommendations that we think are really actionable, but the recommendations aren’t just for one group. They are for folks at the district, state, and community level. So, everyone can play a role.”