Posted on October 18, 2011

Once Again, a Focus on Disparities in L.A. Unified

Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2011

There was a familiar ring to last week’s announcement that the Los Angeles Unified School District plans to improve the education of its black students and children not fluent yet in English.


The campaign to raise the achievement of black, Latino and low-income students has been bumping along in this school system for so many years, it’s begun to seem like smoke and mirrors.

The achievement gap was an issue when I moved to L.A. in 1979. Then, integration was going to be the solution. Then more money for inner-city schools. Then “culturally relevant” instruction for minority students. Now, at least, it’s fundamentals: better teachers, libraries and technology.

Raise your hand if you see that happening soon.


I know I sound cynical. Maybe I’ve been watching and writing about this struggling school district for too long.

I’m glad for the renewed attention on what is an enduringly shameful problem: the persistent gap that separates white, Asian and high-income students from their black, Latino and low-income counterparts.

Translated demographically, that means 15% of the district is shining while 85% sinks.


Students in Watts and Hollywood and Boyle Heights should have the same access to libraries and computers and college-prep courses as my daughters did in Granada Hills.

This new settlement requires the sort of basics that every school district ought to offer: intervention for struggling students, adequate instructional materials in every classroom, monitoring of everything from test scores to discipline to student and teacher attendance.

It leaves the details up to local officials, but promises no A based on effort; only good results will matter.


I know it takes more than tough love to lift the masses of struggling children. And improving academic performance isn’t cheap. We need more committed teachers, a rigorous curriculum, classroom activities that stimulate curiosity and creativity; assessments that demonstrate what students lack and what they need.