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The Education Imperative
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8 Mile
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Spring 2004
8 Mile
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Illustration of a Fertile Landscape
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"?

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.

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2005 The Regents of the University of California