Digging Deeper: Setting the Context

Despite considerable attention paid to the persistence of racial disparities in academic achievement, the so-called achievement gap continues to be a challenge. (Edwards, 2019)

Black youth continue to show disadvantage on a range of academic outcomes relative to other students. Despite the state’s central commitment to equity, the relative performance of Black students in California and Los Angeles County on standardized assessments and graduation rates, are significantly lower than is observed for other groups (Cano, 2018; LA Schools Report, 2019; EdTrust 2015; McFarland, et. al, 2019; NAEP, 2018).

In reviewing the educational context of Black children, the impact of social, health and environmental conditions on their academic performance has often been overlooked (Raver et al., 2013). Existing research shows that Black students are more likely to experience homelessness, to be placed in foster care and group homes, to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, and to experience various forms of trauma and abuse. However, these disparities are rarely acknowledged in building a more nuanced understanding of racial disparities in educational outcomes (Edwards, 2019; Masten et al., 2014; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2010; Obradović, 2019). More often than not, education policy has approached these issues separately, if at all.

Two underlying factors are important to keep in mind before we explore academic, health and environmental patterns for school districts that serve the largest number of Black students in Los Angeles County. One, the concentration of economic inequality for Black families and its profound impact on the education, health and well-being for young people. And two, how shifting enrollment patterns present unique challenges for students attending schools in communities that historically have not served a significant Black student population like in the Antelope Valley. In the following sections we unpack some of the persistent challenges that disproportionately affect large numbers of Black youth, and attempt to document how a web of disadvantage, racism, poverty, environment, policing, and exclusion have had a profound impact on their educational opportunities, experiences, and outcomes.