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Can new leadership in Sacramento fulfill for
California's schoolchildren the Supreme Court's promise of a public
education "available to all on equal terms"?
By Gary Blasi
Illustration by Ken Orvidas
UCLA IS A GEM within California's system of public
education. But to the southeast there is a school that represents
another part of that system: Dorsey High. The two campuses are just
eight miles apart, but by a host of other measures, the distance
that separates them is far greater.
UCLA's magnificent campus offers just about everything that a teacher
or student could want. There are fast computers, a superb library
and excellent classrooms, to say nothing of the commanding redwoods
and lovely teak benches that grace the north part of campus where
I work at the School of Law.
Dorsey High is another story. There, 2,209 students are crammed
into a building that is designed to accommodate 1,000. One history
class has 43 students in a room without enough desks, leaving some
students with only folding chairs or the floor to sit on. The 67-year-old
building is infested with cockroaches and rodents. In some classrooms,
students must share textbooks, and there are none available to take
home for homework. There is often only one unlocked bathroom to
accommodate the more than 1,000 boys. As you can imagine, the school
has a hard time attracting and retaining well-qualified teachers.
Thirty percent of the teachers on campus lack full credentials;
a fifth are in their first or second year of teaching. The turnover
rate is high.
The results of this are not surprising. In 1998, 609 students entered
the ninth grade at Dorsey. Four years later, 326 students graduated.
Only 51 had taken the courses they needed to even apply to a state
university. This year, 12 Dorsey students applied to UCLA. One was
accepted and enrolled. I do not know that student, but I do appreciate
the distance he or she had to travel to get to UCLA.