Despite more than a dozen years of court-ordered attempts to alleviate the harm of racial segregation, the Los Angeles Unified School District has failed to improve achievement and opportunities for many of its students--especially blacks and Latinos, according to a district report.
Youngsters who must take long school bus rides to other communities because of overcrowding in their neighborhood schools have suffered the most--sometimes scoring only half as high on achievement tests as their classmates who live close to campus.
"Many students are still shackled by the harms of racial isolation--low academic achievement and limited post-secondary opportunities. Black and Hispanic students are especially afflicted by these harms," the district's annual integration report concluded.
Although the district annually scrutinizes its various programs aimed at mitigating the effects of racial segregation, Monday's special Board of Education hearing marked the first time it has aired the findings in public.
Board members, preparing to make decisions on next year's integration budget, took no action on the report, but they discussed it for several hours.
Board President Jackie Goldberg--who has pushed for public hearings on the integration report since her election seven years ago--said she was "dismayed but not surprised" by the findings.
"We have made some progress in some important areas," Goldberg said, "but one of the major important harms of segregation is low achievement. And we have not done nearly enough to close the gap between kids from middle-income families and those from low-income families. And in Los Angeles, there is a lot of correlation between race and income level."
The report studied students in 229 schools participating in various desegregation programs in grades four. five, seven, eight, 10, 11 and 12 last school year. It looked at a variety of factors--including standardized test scores, parental involvement, ethnic background, whether students attended schools with minority enrollments of 70% or more, whether they were bused, their post-graduation plans, the attitudes of their teachers and administrators, and the students' self-esteem.
The study also compared how various groups did in different school settings and found that students in the district's popular "magnet" program of specialized schools fared the best. That is not surprising because the poorest students rarely apply for the magnet programs.
The district buses nearly 25,000 students daily from crowded neighborhood schools--many in low-income areas with big influxes of recent immigrants--to less congested campuses, often in suburban, middle-class communities. Those students often fare poorly, the report showed.
For example, fourth-grade reading scores on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills showed that the bused students earned a mean percentile score of 28, while students who lived near the school scored 58. In math, the bused students scored 32; the neighborhood youngsters, 66.
The report also found that bused students had many disadvantages, ranging from late arrival of records from their home area schools to not enough bilingual teachers at their new schools.
Reading vocabulary scores for all grades taking the same test varied markedly by ethnic group. Thirty-eight percent of American Indians scored in the "very low" range, as did 28% of Asians, 48% of blacks, and 55% of Latinos. Only 17% of whites scored in the lowest range. The test-takers included students with limited English skills.
The report also found that black students at lower-achieving schools had the lowest expectations for their own achievement.
One of the bright spots in the report were positive findings in schools with parent participation projects and in low-income schools that offered language-arts-oriented preschool programs to 4-year-olds. Those students went on to do significantly better in elementary school than their counterparts.
The district spent $354 million on desegregation programs this year, with the bulk of the funds paying for bus transportation and reducing class sizes, all part of the integration plan worked out with the courts over several years.
Goldberg said the report and Monday's hearing were aimed at helping the financially troubled district figure out the best return on its desegregation dollar.
"For those things that are not working, we must make changes," she said. "It is not enough any longer to just wring our hands and say we are dismayed. We have to try some new things. There is no guarantee the new things will work, but we have got to try."