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UCLA

K-12, Underserved and Overburdened

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By Melanie Bertrand

Published Aug 12, 2009 5:15 PM


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The Council of Youth Research, sponsored by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, with Professor Ernest Morrell on the far right.

California's education funding has been cut by $17 billion in the last two budget deals and schools are suffering. But some students are hurting more than others, according to a group of high school-aged researchers who presented their findings at Los Angeles City Hall earlier this month.

The group — the Council of Youth Research, sponsored by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access — spent the last five weeks researching educational opportunities in Los Angeles-area schools and neighborhoods and found that the economic crisis is hitting students of color especially hard.

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Council of Youth Research member Gabriela Dominguez.

"The economic crisis is biased, which means that it impacts everyone differently," said council member Gabriela Dominguez.

Under the direction of Professors Ernest Morrell and John Rogers, UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA) has held research seminars with urban high school students for the past 10 years. The students examine education conditions in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and present their findings to the public.

"Our youth have important recommendations for students, parents, teachers, administrators, policymakers and everyday citizens who are interested in change," Morrell says.

The most recent presentation was the culmination of a summer research seminar in which the council's 25 members — all students from South and East Los Angeles high schools — studied educational theory, surveyed almost 700 LAUSD students, and interviewed students, teachers, principals and policy makers, including LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines. They presented their conclusions to a group of about 200 people, including Cortines, a staff member from the mayor's office, representatives of other elected officials, media representatives and community members.

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Council of Youth Research member Richard McClain.

To the standing-room-only audience, the group explained how the economic crisis has worsened inequality both between and within schools and neighborhoods. For example, at Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles, more than 40 percent of teachers — many of whom lacked seniority — got pink slips this spring. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods, however, had far fewer layoffs, since they employ more senior teachers. Teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and tightened school budgets combine with cuts to health care and community programs to produce disparate effects on youth and families.

The council members explained two dimensions of this impact: First, the hardest hit areas are those with majorities of Latino and African American residents. Second, students from these groups deal with more hardships than their peers, even when they live in wealthier areas.

To address the challenge, the council recommended reinstating the cut funding to education, providing information about schools to parents and communities, and making education a priority for policymakers. As Council member Richard McClain summarized, "We youth are tired of disappointment and false promises, so now we demand real actions based on our research."

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