by Jacob Yu
When I ran as an LAUSD student board member, I became more fully aware of the issues that deeply affect our district. When I attended the Student Superintendent Council Board meeting, many student representatives voiced their dissent and noted the racial and economic inequality within LAUSD. Listening to their complaints and concerns, I was inspired to research and continue exploring the issue of educational inequality in our school district. My continued interest and sparked passion from this event led me to produce this research article, which analyzes the history and roots of LAUSD educational inequality.
In the 1980s, Rodriguez vs. LAUSD was a court case started by Mexican American parents who noticed unequal educational treatment in their schools and towards their students. Mexican American community schools within LAUSD had subpar facilities, insufficient resources compared to White students, less money spent per student in comparison to wealthier White students, larger classroom sizes, and less qualified teachers. All of the aforementioned factors had a direct effect on the academic performance of students who attended these schools, with students attending primarily Hispanic schools scoring significantly lower in math and reading than students in primarily White schools. Although this case required LAUSD to uphold a consent decree where they would outline plans to alleviate the inequalities present within the district, the LAUSD legal department indicated they had no obligation to keep the school board updated on the Rodriguez case and subsequently released no reports regarding the progress on such an issue. The legal team in LAUSD only expanded after the consent decree, mainly to protect the district from liabilities rather than address the needs of the children attending these schools. To this day, LAUSD students within low-income neighborhoods do not have enough funds to maintain school facilities or hire better teachers. The money allocated and distributed by the government consistently goes to higher-performing schools rather than the neediest schools, failing to provide necessary quality education to low-performing schools. This scarcity in education disproportionately affects non-White students within LAUSD. In a paper published by the Speak Up Parents Organization within LAUSD, it was noted that one-third of African American students were less likely to achieve proficiency in ELA (English Language Arts) on the Smarter Balanced test, they were 3.4 times less likely to achieve proficiency in ELA and math in comparison to their peers, and the gap between African American and White students ranged from 28% to 40%. These figures clearly show a discrepancy between White students and African American & Hispanic students. In addition to being present in LAUSD, this issue is one that plagues American education across the nation.
Inequality has been at the center of American economic and social issues. This can especially be seen in rising income inequality among races, an issue that affects individuals in very real ways. These effects are particularly present in the quality of high school and collegiate level education among the spectrum of income. There is significant inequality between racial groups, with White and Asians being classified as the highest income groups and African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics qualifying for the lowest income groups (Akee & Jones and Porter, 2019). Familial income has a significant role in school readiness and long-term success in school. Due to this, children attending schools with low-income classmates have worse academic performance and graduation rates compared to children attending schools with more affluent classmates (Duncan & Murnane, 2014). There are major discrepancies among racial groups in academic performance. A majority of racial minorities attend schools with low funding and have less access to educational resources in comparison to White students (Darling-Hammond, 1998). Further, the educational gap in relation to income has a direct effect on collegiate education, for there has been an association between collegiate inequality and income inequality, especially in recent decades (Micelle & Holzman, 2020).
LAUSD schools are funded by the state, mainly from income and sale taxes as well as local property taxes. Thus, a majority of the funding for LAUSD schools are based on the local environment that students live in. The national issue of educational inequality and discrepancies in academic performance amongst racial groups can be seen within LAUSD. For this article, I analyzed the most recent open source data demographics for each of the seven board districts within LAUSD and used statistical analysis to identify five major outcomes regarding race and income. Using data on the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and the rates of college completion within six years, I found a statistically significant negative correlation. This implies that as the percentage of economically disadvantaged students increases, the rates of college completion within six years decreases. Further, observing data on the percentage of non-White students and the rates of college completion within six years, I found a statistically negative correlation. This indicates that as the percentage of non-White students increase, the rates of college completion within six years decreases. In addition to this, using data on the percentage of non-White students and four year cohort dropout rates, I was able to find a statistically significant positive correlation. This suggests that as the percentage of non-White students increase, the four year cohort dropout rates subsequently increase. Moreover, when utilizing the percentage of non-White students and the percentages of students chronically absent, there was a statistically significant positive correlation. This notes that as the percentage of non-White students increase, the percentage of students grades 9-12 chronically absent increases as well. Finally, when testing both the percentages of students grades 9-12 chronically absent and the rates of college completion within six years, there was a statistically significant negative correlation. This means that as the percentage of students grades 9-12 chronically absent increases, the rate of college completion within six years decreases. These figures indicate that students who attend majority non-White schools are less likely to enroll or stay in college, drop out within four years of their high school experience, and be chronically absent from grades 9-12 than their majority White counterparts. Further, students who attend schools with high percentages of low-income families are less likely to enroll or stay in college than their higher-income counterparts, with chronic absenteeism from grades 9-12 being a factor in lower college enrollment and persistence. These outcomes clearly indicate that non-White students, particularly Hispanic and Black students, and lower-income students are at a disadvantage to their White, higher-income counterparts in regards to higher education. This was clearly evident in the difference in educational experience between students that attended schools on opposite ends of the racial and income spectrum.
One student, identified as Ash, attending a school in Board District 6 – a district with the second highest Hispanic population, highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students, lowest college enrollment and completion rates – noted how his school’s resources and funds were used in unproductive ways, explaining, “I feel like our funds could have gone towards many other things such as sports, more teachers, more academies.” When asked about his peer’s living situations in regards to their educational experience, he also noted how, “Some people have terrible living conditions or sometimes they have siblings they have to deal with. For example, I have a little brother and sometimes I gotta help him. And with athletics and everything, I gotta be home at, like, 6:00 or 7:00. And trying to get my homework done and my siblings – it’s kinda difficult sometimes.” He also commented on the lack of counselors, college visits, and tutoring within his school. This has had an impact on his higher education aspirations. When asked about if his school was preparing him well for college he said, “No, not really, just a lot of general stuff, nothing specific that helps you towards your degree. I mean, as I said earlier it’s a lot of information to be processing in a day.” Ash also observed how many of his peers applied and attended community college due to the high cost of universities or four-year colleges, saying, “Yeah, it actually does, like whether like if it was someone that was making more money they probably were able to go to a prestigious college rather than someone that’s a low income family, they probably go to a community college… It sometimes worries me thinking how much the cost of education will be, if I can afford it.”
The difference between Ash’s experience and that of another student who lives in Board District 6, a district with the highest college enrollment and completion and White enrollment, and the lowest percentage of economically disadvantaged students, is clear. The student, Tara McKillop, noted how a majority of her teachers were well-qualified, stating, “Of the teachers that are my favorite, they have engaged the students in learning and stuff like that, but they’ve also shown that they prioritize the student’s education and also emotional status too. I would also say that with those teachers that they are overqualified in the sense that they could be doing so much more than just teaching and we, the students, show that we are really grateful for that. We do have a good amount of APs offered at our schools and the teachers for those are really nice.” She also noted how a lot of the AP classes were filled with White and Asian students, rather than Black or Hispanic. When asked about the support that she receives for her high school education, McKillop stated, “Something that my school offers is lunch tutoring, by students for students. Some of my teachers also do provide tutoring and stuff like that so I think overall my school understands the kids’ situations.” She also stated how, “My parents do support me in my educational experience and I would say also my teachers have been a big influence on it. They’re there for the students to help them out with anything that they need.” When questioned about college preparation, McKillop noted how her college center has easily accessible resources and helpful college counselors. She also commented on the college educational aspirations and experiences of her peers, stating, “So the graduating class that I was close to, a lot of them got into Santa Barbara and San Diego. So, a lot of them are getting into UCs top colleges. I know quite a few of them were able to also go out of state.” This difference between Tara’s and Ash’s schooling and experiences towards higher education directly reflects the disparity that students within LAUSD experience.
This inequality in education continues to go unheard as thousands of students from similar backgrounds as Ash face similar obstacles and difficulties that other students simply do not experience. We must do a better job of being there for our kids.