There are a number of student groups who face more challenging circumstances than their peers.
This section gives attention to sub groups of Black youth who face unique circumstances that require additional time, attention, intervention and support. Moreover, this section highlights how the subgroups of students that we focus on here (those that are economically disadvantaged, students in foster care, those chronically absent, students with disabilities, and students experiencing homelessness) fare even worse when they are Black. Many of these student subgroups are being harmed even more by cumulative disadvantage which requires even more intentional and intense interventions.
Economically Disadvantaged Students
Chronic absenteeism is typically an indication of much deeper challenges that youth face at home. To capture a more complete picture of what may explain chronic absenteeism are patterns of economic disadvantage that disproportionately affect Black youth in Los Angeles County. Similar to the County-wide trend, in 10 of the 14 focus districts, there are significant poverty disparities between Black and White students. For example, a Black student in Long Beach Unified is three times more likely to receive free or reduced lunch than a white student in that district. It should be noted that in school districts like Compton, Inglewood, Paramount, and Centinela Valley where there are smaller economic disparities compared to white students, these school districts actually serve very small numbers of (less than 250) white students (See Figure 2.17). In other words, where racialized economic disparities are small, the numbers of white students are also noticeably small.
Figure 2.18 shows the significant variation in Black graduation rates in the 14 focus districts. While small school districts in relatively affluent areas of the County graduate nearly all of their Black, economically disadvantaged students, school districts serving more working-class communities like Antelope Valley; William Hart, and Centinela have substantially lower graduation rates.
Students in Foster Care
Where issues around economic disadvantage are present, the ripple effect for families become even more apparent. One of the areas that is often linked to economic disadvantage, and disconnection from systems of support is youth in foster care. Black youth in the foster care system are among the most vulnerable in Los Angeles County. The 14 focus districts in this study have a significant population of youth in foster care and many of these students experience significant disparities in suspension rates (Wood et al., 2018). School districts with particularly large Black student populations have at least twice the rate of the County average suspension rate of two percent. In Antelope Valley and Pasadena, suspension rates are 30% and 30%, respectively, for Black youth in foster care (See Figure 2.19).
During the 2018 – 2019 school year, 34% of Black students in foster care were chronically absent from school, a rate that is nearly three times as high as the County average. Furthermore, 12 of the 14 focus districts have chronic absenteeism rates of 20% or higher for Black students in foster care. Nearly half of the Black students in the foster care system who attend school in Pasadena Unified miss at least 18 days of school per year (See Figure 2.20).
Students experiencing homelessness
Like youth in foster care, Black students experiencing homelessness face an inordinate number of obstacles. Housing instability plays a significant role in the overall academic success of low-income students. Student homelessness is defined under the McKinney Vento Homelessness Assistance Act “as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” (Edson, 2011; Underwood, 2016). Research shows students experiencing homelessness are more likely to perform below grade level in reading, Mathematics, and Science on standardized exams when compared to students with stable housing but who also come from impoverished households (Bishop et al., 2020; Edwards, 2019; Masten et al., 2014; Masten et al., 2014). Additionally, teachers face significant challenges in supporting students experiencing homelessness as a result of the population’s high rates of absenteeism, school mobility and transience, and the challenges that arise related to addressing their unmet social emotional needs (Bishop et al., 2020; Chow et al., 2015). Black students experience disproportionately higher rates of homelessness compared to their counterparts (Noguera et al., 2019). In eight of the 14 focus districts, Black students are twice as likely to experience homelessness than other groups (Figure 2.21). In Centinela Valley Union High School District, Black students experience homelessness at three times their representation in the district.
In addition to being over-represented in the Los Angeles County homeless population, Black youth experiencing homelessness graduate from high school at a rate 21 percentage points below the county average for all homeless students (Public Health Institute & California Environmental Health Tracking Program, 2015). In most of the focus districts we focused on, Black students who are experiencing homelessness clearly face cumulative disadvantages, with suspension rates that exceed overall County rates, as well as such rates for Black students in the County or non-Black students that are experiencing homelessness. The suspension rates of Black students experiencing homelessness in Antelope Valley and Bellflower school districts are particularly high (figure 2.22). Notably, the rate of suspensions of Black students experiencing homelessness in Bellflower are double that of all Black students in Bellflower.
Students with Disabilities
Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 was established to ensure all children with disabilities receive an equitable education, students placed in special education classrooms still experience significant barriers to educational equity in schools. Throughout Los Angeles County, students who receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) due to learning differences are more likely to perform below grade level in reading, Mathematics, and Science on standardized assessments. Figure 2.23 reflects district level students with disabilities. In 10 of the 14 focus districts there is relative parity between the percentage of Black students in special education and their representation in the larger population. In Inglewood Unified, for example, Black students represent 40% of the district’s overall population and 40% of the students with a disability. However, in Antelope Valley, Compton, and Paramount school districts, Black students are significantly overrepresented in the students with disability population. While Black students make up 17% of the student population in Antelope Valley, Black students make up nearly a third (27%) of students with disabilities. These disparities raise important questions about the identification process that places a higher number of Black students in Special Education, as well as whether the effects of cumulative disadvantage are also at play.
The majority of Black students with disabilities graduate at alarmingly low rates. And while school districts such as Inglewood, Paramount, Pasadena, Bellflower, and Long Beach are closer to Los Angeles County averages, both Antelope Valley and Los Angeles have gaps greater than 25% of the County averages and these students do not graduate from high school on time (Figure 2.24).
Figure 2.25 reflects the suspension rates for Black students with disabilities in Los Angeles County in the 14 focus districts. In 13 of the 14 school districts, Black students with disabilities range from being two to 10 times more likely to be suspended than the average Los Angeles County student. In Antelope Valley, Pasadena, and Bellflower school districts, one in four Black students with a disability were suspended at least once during the 2018-19 school year.
The high rates of suspensions of Black students with disabilities might suggest that there is either gross neglect for Black students with disabilities, or a complete and total misunderstanding of students’ behaviors
that requires a significant intervention.