UCLA Study: Black Youth in LA County Face an “Accumulation of Disadvantage”

Authors urge educators and policymakers to address poverty, health and educational practices that undermine achievement, opportunity.

Black youth in Los Angeles County face an accumulation of disadvantage, undermining their academic, social and economic success and placing them at greater risk of structural disenfranchisement  — not in school, not working and ensnared in the criminal justice system, according to a new study Beyond the Schoolhouse:  Overcoming Challenges & Expanding Opportunity for Black Youth in Los Angeles County, released today by researchers at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

“Poverty, poor environmental quality and other negative factors, as well as a lack of access to healthcare, recreational opportunities and other services are as much a part of the experience of Black youth in Los Angeles County as is their concentration in disadvantaged neighborhoods attending highly segregated, under -resourced schools that may be ill-prepared to meet their needs,” says Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education and the founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. “This accumulation of disadvantage compounds the educational challenges facing Black youth and the schools that serve them.”

Despite California’s growing commitment to equity, on virtually every academic indicator – from achievement in mathematics and English to the completion of A-G requirements for entry into the CSU or UC systems of higher education, Black students in Los Angeles County consistently lag behind their non-Black peers. Black students also are more likely to face punitive discipline such as suspension or expulsion, have the highest rates of chronic absenteeism, and disproportionately attend schools the state has identified in need of targeted support that may lack critical resources needed to respond to the social and psychological needs of their students. 

Academic factors alone however do not provide a complete picture of the challenges facing Black students, whoare more likely than any other group to experience homelessness, to be placed in foster care, or to have a parent who is incarcerated. Many Black students live in communities and attend schools that are highly segregated by race and income. 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 families, including higher rates of asthma and exposure to lead. 

“Where a child lives, whether they have access to healthy food, clean air, quality health care and other services has a profound influence on their academic performance and the quality of schools they attend,” says Tyrone C. Howard, Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.  “While a small but significant number of Black children, mostly from affluent households who attend well resourced and racially integrated schools, graduate from high school and enroll in college, far too many Black students in Los Angeles County face a dual threat of inadequate educational opportunity and support, and social and environmental factors that place their educational and social development at great risk. We must address this accumulation of disadvantage if we are to improve educational and developmental outcomes for Black students.”

“The academic achievement of Black and low-income students in California has been a focus for many decades in schools,” says Joseph Bishop, Director of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. “Yet our failure to recognize that schools alone cannot address poverty and unhealthy community conditions has made it more difficult for social policies to have a positive impact on the needs of our most vulnerable children.

“Our hope is that this new study will not only make clear the urgency of the situation confronting Black students, but that it will inform and fuel a strategic and comprehensive effort to address the accumulation of disadvantage confronting Black youth in order to improve educational and developmental outcomes.”

“It is not enough just to improve schools, we must address the out-of school factors that influence a child’s development. We must do both,” adds Noguera. 

The research brief includes specific recommendations for local, state and federal policymakers.  In particular, the reports authors urge the development of a countywide strategic plan to address the needs of Black children.  They also urge state policymakers to increase funding for California’s Local Control Funding Formula, targeting school districts where adverse childhood experiences are particularly prominent. The report’s authors also highlight examples of schools and community groups engaged in positive efforts to support Black youth. 

Beyond the Schoolhouse:  Overcoming Challenges & Expanding Opportunity for Black Youth in Los Angeles County was presented at a community meeting hosted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Wednesday, October 9 at 10.00 a.m. at the Welnest Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas life Learning Center in Los Angeles.  The full study and recommendations are available online at transformschools.ucla.edu/beyond-the-schoolhouse.   The study is a joint project of the Black Male Institute and the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.  The Hewlett Foundation, The California Endowment, the Broad Foundation and the Office of Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas provided funding for the study.

Visit this link for an interview with Professor Noguera on KPCC’s “Sound Cloud.”