Guest Commentary by Andrea Zetlin in the LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/1pLyMvs
6/5/14, 9:05 AM PST :: On any given day, there are approximately 55,000 children and youth in foster care in California. Although they comprise about one percent of the total student population served by our public schools, they are one of the most educationally vulnerable groups within our schools.
Research has shown that they have higher rates of absences, suspensions, expulsions and special education referrals. They score significantly lower on standardized tests and experience higher rates of grade retention. Most do not complete high school and are at great risk of becoming part of the public assistance and criminal justice systems.
This negative trajectory led the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection to stress that “education is vital to the success of all children, but children and youth in foster care are particularly vulnerable to education challenges that negatively impact their academic success.”
Gov. Jerry Brown designed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) to include supplemental funds for school practices that promote educational success of foster youth. Each school district’s Local Control Accountability Plan must include goals for foster students and details of what practices will lead to the achievement of these goals. These funds provide an extraordinary opportunity to effectively address the educational and behavioral needs of this at-risk group of students. A critical next step is to decide what exactly must be done to create successful and comprehensive approaches to support these students who are at risk for school failure.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) appears to be off to a good start. LAUSD has the largest number of foster youth — more than 8,000 — of any of the school districts within California. Several years ago, the district established a specialized unit to provide advocacy services on behalf of foster youth. The staff’s main responsibilities include: 1) helping schools implement current legislation pertaining to foster children; 2) providing training and technical support to schools and district staff; and 3) serving as the district contact for agencies involved in the care of foster youth (Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Probation, Department of Mental Health, etc.).
With these supplemental LCFF funds, LAUSD intends to hire more personnel to focus efforts on ensuring that all foster students have a comprehensive academic assessment and that each foster student in middle or high school has an individual culmination/graduation plan.
The LCFF provides LAUSD with an unprecedented chance to reverse the downward spiral that foster youth experience. However, the district needs to be sure that the interventions that are introduced do, in fact, support student performance as well as college and career readiness.
LAUSD needs to implement practices that tackle the most pressing problems that foster students face: 1) lack of academic achievement and engagement in school; 2) emotional and behavioral challenges that impact learning, and 3) frequency of school changes during the school year. The district must commit to providing ongoing support for academic progress, mental health services, and mentoring, tutoring and prevention programs. Moreover, the district must not rely on the annual collection of evaluative data to determine the effectiveness of instituted practices. LAUSD must continuously monitor the progress of individual foster youth to determine the effectiveness of interventions and make modifications as needed.
If LAUSD is to take full advantage of the opportunity LCFF is providing for foster youth, the district must adopt a comprehensive and flexible approach that allows for adjustments to educational supports so that the needs of individual students in foster care can be accommodated as they make themselves known.
- Andrea Zetlin is professor of education and chair of the Division of Special Education and Counseling at California State University Los Angeles; firstname.lastname@example.org. She is co-author with Lois Weinberg of “Placed At-Risk by the System: The Educational Vulnerability of Children and Youth in Foster Care.”
The need for support and help for foster youth is real and LAUSD gets it and will respond admirably. This is important because foster youth really have no personal advocates to advocate on their behalf. Foster parents have no standing in law because the children are actually wards of the court and their biological parents have had their parental rights removed. And the truth is that most foster kids don’t have foster parents per se – they are residents of group homes administered by the infamous+cosmicly failed LA County Department of Family and Children’s Services. The social workers who administer their cases are overworked at best; the system is Dickensian at worst. And worst is often the status quo.
However good LAUSD is and/or will be at addressing the needs of foster youth – it is and will be lax in addressing the needs of the English Language Learners and Children of Poverty – the other “unduplicated students” targeted by the Local Control Funding Formula. And this is precisely because those children do have parent advocates who do and will challenge the District’s infinite wisdom – and because LAUSD has historically (and please pardon my language, but the barnyard vernacular applies) done a piss-poor job of engaging parents.
- the infinite wisdom buttressed with
- the way we’ve always done things
- …and supported by sheaves of colored and numbered memos and bulletins.
And the current leadership if anything is not worse - but The Worst - of all previous regimes!
Under LCFF the parent voice in the Local Control Accountability Plan as institutionalized+mandated by state law and District policy is the Parent Advisory Council. Here in LAUSD that voice is not being listened to …even though the District did their not-very-good best to engineer a sympathetic membership in the PAC.
Instead our Infinitely Wise District – board and superintendent alike – is listening to the especially interested:
- the Astroturf community coalitions
- the foundation-funded groups with acronym names
- ….in similarly colored T-shirts
- ….bused in for the meeting.
In other words: The Unusual Suspects.
Until the LAUSD accepts parents – cranky+cantankerous as we may be – as partners and advocates for our children (and at our best: all children) and not adversaries over bits of the budget pie – the suckiness+piss-pooritude will persist!