South Gate Official Compiles Data : Teacher Quality Cited as Issue in Pupil Shift

Times Staff Writer

City officials assert statistics obtained from the Los Angeles Unified School District show that inner-city high school students, who are predominantly from minority groups, are discriminated against because they are taught by the district's least-experienced teachers.

City Atty. Bruce Boogaard, who compiled the statistics, said the data shows that the district's inner-city high schools, such as South Gate, have the highest concentration of minority students, less-experienced teachers and lower California Assessment Program test scores than suburban schools.

City officials are using the statistics in a dispute with the school district over plans to relieve overcrowding at South Gate High School by sending local students to Jordan High School in Watts beginning in September.

Teachers Flee

Boogaard, discussing the statistics in an interview last week, charged school district officials with permitting experienced teachers to flee inner-city schools such as South Gate or Jordan.

The current deployment of teachers "perpetuates a socioeconomic disparity" between inner-city and suburban schools, he said.

"More experienced teachers are better teachers," Boogaard asserted, adding, "If the district can't provide equal quality education they should get out of the business and cede that authority to local communities."

A spokesman for the district, Bill Rivera, replied that the students are not being discriminated against because "experience doesn't necessarily indicate the caliber of the teachers."

Rivera added that inner-city schools tend to have less-experienced teachers because the higher birthrate for minorities causes enrollments to grow rapidly at these schools and that requires hiring more new teachers.

Union Opposition

Larry Gonzalez, a school board member, said that the district has tried for years to address the problem of less-experienced teachers in inner-city schools, though he maintained that South Gate students attending Jordan would receive as good an education as students elsewhere in the district.

To address the disparity in teaching experience, the district last year sought authority to transfer teachers, but ran into stiff opposition from the teachers union, Rivera said.

District officials "would like to be able to move teachers according to the needs of the students, but you can't do that without trampling on the rights of teachers," he said. He added that under the current contract with the teachers union, teachers with two years in the system can be transferred at their request to fill openings at other schools, in accordance with a complicated formula that includes seniority.

South Gate officials have been at odds with Los Angeles school officials since the school board's unanimous decision May 6 to send about 250 students from overcrowded South Gate High to Jordan, which is less crowded and located less than a mile away.

Seeking to overturn the school board's ruling, the city sued the school district in June but lost in a decision earlier this month by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John C. Cole. City officials and residents who are party to the suit have decided to appeal, said Boogaard, though the papers have not yet been filed.

Not Mentioned in Decision

The contention that South Gate students are discriminated against because they are taught by less-experienced teachers was raised in the unsuccessful lawsuit but not addressed in the judge's decision, Boogaard said.

Boogaard compiled the statistics in computer-made charts to use in arguing the suit.

Boogaard's data shows that teachers at South Gate High School have an average of 12.8 years of experience, and teachers at Jordan High have an average of 12.3 years of experience.

Meanwhile, at Sylmar High in the San Fernando Valley, where 300 South Gate students are bused, teachers have an average of 16.2 years of experience. At Verdugo Hills High in Tujunga, teachers have 18.2 years of experience; at San Pedro, teachers have 18.7 years experience, and at Palisades High in Pacific Palisades, teachers are the most experienced in the district, with 19.8 years of experience.

Boogaard maintained that the disparity in teaching experience helps contribute to lower CAP scores in inner-city schools because, he asserted, more experienced teachers are better at teaching minority students.

'Not Less Capable of Learning'

"I'm not prepared to accept the fact that a minority child is any less capable of learning than a non-minority child," Boogaard said.

At Jordan High, where 69% of the students are black and 30% are Latino, the average CAP score last year was 48.8. At South Gate, which is 86% Latino and 2% black, the average CAP score last year was 58.3.

In contrast, at Sylmar, where there is a higher level of teacher experience and a lower percentage (56%) of black and Latino students, the average CAP score was 58.4.

At Verdugo Hills, where 38% of the students are black or Latino, the average CAP score was 63.3. At San Pedro, where 43% of the students are black and Latino, the average CAP score was 65.4. At Palisades, where 42% of the students are black or Latino, the average CAP score was 70.1.

Gonzalez, the school board member who proposed sending South Gate students to Watts, agreed with Boogaard's conclusions, saying that the disparity in the level of teaching experience is a "sensitive issue" that has been a longstanding problem in the district. But he added that bringing up the issue now is an attempt by South Gate officials to inject politics into what he said should be an educational issue.

"It's ironic that he (Boogaard) is starting to make those types of observations when that (the disparity in teaching experience) has been true for the last 10 to 15 years," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez insisted that South Gate students will receive the same quality of education as other district students when they report to Jordan High School this fall. He said that district officials plan to meet the needs of South Gate students at Jordan if they require advanced classes such as advanced algebra, computer science or literature.

"We will find the teachers and we will allocate the necessary books and funds so that no youngster is shortchanged," Gonzalez said.

One-Day Walkout

While school district spokesman Rivera said the teachers union opposed the transfer of teachers, and in fact, staged a one-day walkout last September over the issue, as reported in The Times, the president of the 16,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles disagreed.

Wayne Johnson, teachers union president, said Thursday that the walkout was over a salary dispute, and the issue of transferring teachers was "negotiable" with the teachers' union this year as officials discuss a new contract.

A spokesman for the union, however, Catherine Carey, said in an earlier interview Thursday that the teachers union has been "historically" opposed to school district proposals to allow mandatory transfers of teachers.

"We have historically been against" allowing the district to transfer teachers, Carey said. "If the district is allowed to have a free hand to transfer teachers any place, any time, the system would be in chaos," she said.

Union president Johnson said that after teaching at Hamilton High in Los Angeles for 22 years, he believes that an average of 10 years of experience per teacher is an "optimum amount."

"The younger teachers lack some experience but they also make up for it in creativity and energy," he said.

COMPARING HIGH SCHOOLS Representative sampling of high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, including data compiled by South Gate City Atty. Bruce Boogaard. He charged that inner-city high school students, who are largely minority, are discriminated against because of the relative inexperience of their teachers.

High Avg. CAP Avg. Exp. % Black, School Score of Teachers Latino Jordan 48.8 12.3 99 South Gate 58.3 12.8 88 Sylmar 58.4 16.2 56 Verdugo Hills 63.3 18.2 38 San Pedro 65.4 18.7 43 Palisades 70.1 19.8 42

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