Pedro Noguera
University of California, Los Angeles
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
Center for the Transformation of Schools

Joseph Bishop
University of California, Los Angeles
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
Center for the Transformation of Schools

Tyrone Howard
University of California, Los Angeles
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies

Stanley Johnson
University of California, Los Angeles
Researcher
Center for the Transformation of Schools

Introduction

Since the 2001 enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), considerable attention has been paid to the persistence of racial disparities in academic achievement. However, despite a series of reform initiatives, many children throughout the United States continue to under-perform on standardized assessments, and the effort to close the so-called achievement gap remains a national challenge. This is particularly true for many Black students, who with few exceptions, continue to perform at lower levels on most measures of academic achievement and attainment. While the issue has been the subject of several national studies and reports, viable evidenced-based solutions to the problem continue to elude educators and policymakers.

In California, despite the state’s growing commitment to equity, Black children consistently lag behind their peers on standardized assessments and graduation rates. This is also the case in Los Angeles County (Figures 1, 2 and 3), the large metropolitan area that is the subject of this report. Black students in LA County are overrepresented among those who are under-prepared for college (Figure 4), who are subject to punitive forms of discipline (Figure 5), and who are chronically absent from school (Figure 6). Moreover, a disproportionate number of Black students in LA County attend schools that the state has identified as “low-performing” (See Maps) and they are also more likely to be enrolled in schools where critical resources (e.g. school counselors, nurses, social workers, highly qualified teachers, etc.) are in short supply.

Figure 1.
Figure 2.
Figure 3.

Figure 4.
Figure 5.

Figure 6.

Why Focus on Black Students?

We have prepared this report to call attention to the challenges facing Black students at schools in LA County, but we do not mean to suggest that they are the only ones experiencing hardships. Though Black children are disproportionately affected by a variety of disadvantages, the data reveals that many children in LA — including Latinx, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, LGBTQ youth, poor white children, and others — also face significant difficulties related to poverty, trauma and the failure of public institutions to respond adequately to their needs. Our hope is that through a detailed analysis of how school-based and environmental factors interact to shape the academic and developmental outcomes of Black children, we can devise strategies and solutions to address their needs and the needs of other disadvantaged children as well. By placing this information into the hands of policymakers and community activists we hope to begin to generate the will to bring about real change for the most vulnerable children in LA County.

The consistency of the patterns is disturbing, yet, statistics on academic achievement do not create a complete picture of what is happening to Black children in LA County. Close examination of their out-of-school experiences reveals that Black students are more likely than any other group to experience homelessness (Figure 7), to be placed in foster care (Figure 8), or to have a parent who is incarcerated (Figure 9). Furthermore, the communities where many Black children reside are also less likely to have parks and recreation facilities and are more likely to contain environmental hazards that negatively impact the health and well-being of children and their families (see the interactive map).

Figure 7.
Figure 8.

While few would argue that adverse childhood experiences are irrelevant to academic performance, education policy has frequently ignored these issues and the social and psychological needs that accompany them. Although California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) prioritizes resources to schools serving the most disadvantaged students, at schools located in the poorest communities, the additional funds are insufficient to address growing needs. Black children are also not recognized as one of the groups in need of targeted support. In LA County and in much of California, Black students are vastly over-represented among children who experience hardships such as homelessness, but too often, they are concentrated in schools that are under-resourced, highly segregated, and lacking the supports necessary to adequately address and respond to their social and psychological needs.

Since 2001, considerable attention has been focused on efforts to reform schools and raise student achievement. However, far less attention and effort has been directed at addressing the out-of-school factors that influence a child’s development, or the economic conditions in the neighborhoods where they live. We must do both. In the longer version of this report we reference the ways in which the accumulation of disadvantage (see the interactive map) influences the educational and developmental outcomes of Black children in LA County. Failure to recognize how poverty, health and educational performance interact has made it more difficult for education policy to have a positive impact on the needs of the most vulnerable children. To correct this oversight, we must devise solutions that are designed to counter and mitigate the effects of these disadvantages.

A longer version of our report will be released in 2020. In it we closely examine the educational performance of Black students in the fourteen school districts in LA County (Figure 10) that serve 800 Black students or more.

Figure 10. Enrollment Rates for the 14 Los Angeles Districts by Race and Ethnicity with Highest Proportion of Black Students 2017-2018

District

Black

Latinx

Asian

White

All Other Ethnicities

Inglewood

40.1%

57.4%

0.4%

0.4%

1.5%

Compton

17.9%

79.0%

0.1%

0.5%

1.0%

Antelope Valley

17.2%

62.1%

1.3%

13.1%

6.1%

Centinela Valley

15.4%

74.4%

2.2%

2.9%

4.3%

Culver City

13.6%

37.9%

10.4%

26.4%

11.5%

Bellflower

12.8%

64.5%

4.0%

10.0%

8.5%

Long Beach

12.8%

56.8%

7.4%

13.1%

7.7%

Pasadena

12.5%

58.3%

5.0%

18.1%

5.4%

ABC Unified

8.5%

45.9%

23.9%

6.0%

15.1%

Los Angeles

8.1%

74.1%

3.7%

10.1%

3.7%

Paramount

7.7%

88.4%

0.8%

1.1%

2.0%

Pomona

4.5%

85.7%

3.4%

3.6%

2.6%

William S Hart

4.5%

37.7%

6.7%

39.5%

10.1%

Torrance

3.9%

30.2%

29.2%

21.8%

13.5%

In our review of the data related to the education and health of Black children in these 14 school districts and in LA County generally, we discovered a distinct and consistent tendency for the students with the greatest needs to be denied learning opportunities through exclusionary discipline practices (Figure 5). We also found that students in foster care, experiencing homelessness, and in special education were most likely to be suspended from school and to have the lowest academic performance on a number of indicators (Figures 1, 2 and 4)

The patterns illustrated in the chart above are by no means unique to LA County. A 2018 report from the Children’s Defense Fund found that throughout the nation, similar patterns are evident, not only among Black children, but among disadvantaged children from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Place Matters: The Accumulation of Disadvantage

The Black population of LA is diverse and declining (Figure 11). Despite a significant decline, LA County is home to the second largest number of Black students in the nation (second only to Cook County, Illinois). There are 109,000 Black students in LA County, more students than in all but two of the school districts in California. 

California Department of Education (2019). Retrieved from here.

It is important to note that there are a small but significant number of Black children (primarily from affluent households), who attend private or and well-resourced, racially integrated public schools. The vast majority of these students graduate from high school and enroll in four-year colleges. This report is largely not about these students. However, it should be noted that Black students who attend such schools are more likely to be eligible for admission to the UC and CSU system than their low-income peers. In this report, we focus our attention on the larger number of Black students who are concentrated in under-resourced schools in the most disadvantaged communities. Such students are overrepresented among those who lag behind their peers in their performance on standardized assessments, in completing courses needed for college, and in college graduation rates. They are also more likely to end up structurally disenfranchised — not working, not in school, and ensnared by the criminal justice system. We must intervene to reduce the likelihood of this occurrence.

Like Latinx students, the majority of Black students are enrolled in poor, racially isolated schools located in impoverished communities. Increasingly, many Black students attend schools where they are a minority (the majority are typically Latinx). Despite their small numbers, Black students at these schools are typically over-represented in categories associated with risk and failure. 

When the Social Science Research Council released the Portrait of LA County in 2018, we were surprised that despite its devastating depiction of the County and its deep and profound inequality, the report received little attention from the local media, and little response from policymakers. We hope a similar fate won’t occur with the release of this report. We build upon the findings from the Portrait of LA County to show that where one lives has a significant impact upon health, the quality of schools, and the availability of economic opportunity. To address this problem, we must target resources and interventions where they are needed most.