by Ariel Edwards Levy | Intersections LA ::The South Los Angeles Report/USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
6-16-2010 South L.A. schools are largely failing to prevent students, especially African-Americans, from dropping out, according to a study released this week.
The report, released as part of the U.S. Human Rights Fund national convention, says that only half of the students who start high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District will graduate.
Hear what some parents say is needed in schools:
Part of the reason is the high use of disciplinary measures like suspension or expulsion, which often lead students to drop out or be "pushed out" rather than reformed, said Laura Faer, an attorney with the Publilc Counsel Law Center, who helped write the report.
Such discipline may also disproportionately target low-income and minority students.
In the 2008-2009 school year, 8.9 percent of students were suspended in Los Angeles Unified School District Local District 7, which comprises most of South L.A.
African American students were more than three times as likely to be suspended than any other ethnic group except Pacific Islanders.
Eddie Madison, a parent leader with Community Asset Development Re-defining Education, or CADRE, said this represented a human rights crisis for students.
"Our children and our community can't wait another year, month, week, day, hour or minute for things to change," he said.
Some things have changed — the use of disciplinary measures like suspension is down over the past two years.
Faer said it can be decreased further if schools follow the new LAUSD policy of using positive methods to support students' behavior — for instance, setting out clear expectations for students, intervening early to solve problems and making students feel included in their school's decision-making and community.
Madison said the last point was key.
"It's going to change our community," he said. "[Children] are going to stop thinking that they have to be gang leaders, or gangbangers, or thugs or thieves. They're going to start thinking that they need to be leaders, they need to be important in the community — to take pride in their community, to take pride in their schools."
Another important factor is parental involvement, said Roslyn Broadnax, another parent with CADRE.
"We no longer have to sit aside and watch our children die, or sit back and watch them fall through the cracks," she said. "We know as parents, if we come together as leaders in our communities, the schools, the principals, the teachers and the parents, that we can do it. Our kids deserve it. They deserve dignity and respect."
Faer said this model had worked at South L.A. schools like Loren Miller Elementary School and Edison Middle School. Both managed to reduce suspensions and engage more students without additional funding, she said.
"It changed the school culture," said Faer. "It previously was this chaotic environment with students largely out of control because the school itself wasn't organized, and then kids were just being excluded and suspended. And now, it's one where they feel like the students are invested in the school community, and the school feels organized and disciplined. And so there's hope in South L.A."