Posted on July 5, 2018

LA’s Schools Are Segregated. LAUSD Says There’s Only So Much They Can Do

Kyle Stokes,, July 3, 2018

The research is increasingly clear: children of all races learn better in racially-integrated schools. Yet in the Los Angeles Unified School District, more than half of the students — around 289,000 kids — attend a school that’s more than 90 percent black and Latino.

Maybe that’s not a shock in a district in which white children make up less than one-tenth of the student body — and Latino kids make up nearly three-quarters of it. Still, an outsized share of California’s most racially-isolated schools are found in LAUSD.


The question is what, if anything, Beutner [new LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner] or the district can do about it.

School segregation is an issue driven by complex societal factors, some of them extending well beyond the schoolhouse door. For instance, research confirms white parents still want to live near predominantly-white schools and Census data shows most Latino kids still live in overwhelmingly Latino neighborhoods.



L.A. Unified has some ongoing integration efforts. Chief among those efforts is, a magnet school program that began after a court order in 1977 and remains popular today.

Beutner, for his part, is skeptical about how much can be done in the schools, at least in the short-term.


Others see it differently. Some advocacy groups contend integration policies could be a solution — or at least part of one.

Let’s look at some recent history.

For decades, educators and policymakers across the U.S. have struggled to narrow wide gaps in academic performance between white and Asian students and less-privileged African-American and Latino students.

The last time they made significant and sustained progress? You have to look back to the 1970s and early ’80s — which also happens to be the height of school integration.


Beutner has a point when he says the district’s range in fighting segregation is limited. A 1978 court-ordered plan for mandatory desegregation busing in L.A. Unified was never carried out — because parents revolted. In 1979, California voters amended the state constitution to basically outlaw mandatory desegregation busing (and the U.S. Supreme Court said that was okay).



In his interview, Beutner said he felt improving the quality of instruction in a school, rather than tinkering with policies that could change the racial makeup of its student body, was a better strategy.

Beutner said communities need to have tough conversations about equity. “But,” he said, “let’s not separate those from the hard work of making sure that each student studying math today in L.A. Unified has a great math teacher,” the classroom resources they need to learn and a strong principal at the helm of their school.



That depends. {snip}


For example, the teaching staffs in urban schools tend to be whiter than the student body. []Have these teachers received culturally-sensitive training? Are black and brown students’ cultural experiences and history reflected in their assignments, textbooks and reading materials? Are these students getting equal access to honors courses? {snip}



History books are full of images illustrating the political risk: the bitter anti-integration protests of the 1970s, led mostly by white parents, in school districts like Boston and Louisville, Kentucky. Even today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent school integration plans have prompted controversy.

Wolf said he’s noticed more activists groups shying away from integration fights and pivoting, like Beutner, to the issue of school quality.

“We tried the integration fight,” these activists tell Wolf, “we didn’t succeed, we didn’t get much purchase on that. Now, we’re just striving to ensure that more students of color have more access to a quality school regardless of racial demographics of that school.”



In L.A. Unified, race is not the only demographic marker of an underprivileged student. State data show roughly one out of every four LAUSD students is not yet proficient in English. In his KPCC interview, Beutner noted there are other district programs will help level the playing field for these students: for instance, bilingual education programs.