THE BLOG

Magnet Schools Are an Important Option for LAUSD

12/20/2011 02:28 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2012
  • Gary Orfield Co-Director, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA

The Los Angeles Unified School District, second biggest in the United States with some 700,000 students, located in the center of the most segregated area in the country for Latino students, is a place where students of color are very often denied any opportunity to do any meaningful preparation for college and are often attending dropout factory high schools. In this system, where mandatory desegregation was abandoned in 1981, there's one small place where's there some racial and economic diversity and special programs offered for students who choose to participate in them.

More than 170 magnet school programs exist in the Los Angeles Unified School District. They have been funded with billions of dollars of state money for desegregation assistance. The strong magnets are one of the last vestiges of middle class education that exist in the City of Los Angeles and one of the few places where students from really disadvantaged backgrounds can come to classes with students from more advantaged backgrounds, in schools where the teachers want to participate in those schools and where there's a special curriculum offered to draw them there. Not all of these schools are great schools. Some of them are phony magnets, and some of them are wonderful schools. But they are a really important option for the City of Los Angeles. When a student can transfer from a dropout factory school to one where many students go to college, a bus is a great educational investment.

Magnet schools have received far too little attention as the attention is turned to charter schools, whose performance has been disappointing in Los Angeles, the state of California and across the country, and which tend to be very intensely segregated on average. Now we learn that the Los Angeles school district, quietly and with almost no public discussion, has been radically reducing its investment in magnet schools. For the 2008-09 school year, LAUSD allocated $84,691,974 in desegregation monies to magnet schools. In 2010-11, this allocation was down 80% to a devastating $17,104,962 and the state now threatens the coup de grace, which is to eliminate entirely magnet bus transportation, and with it the possibility for students who can't provide their own transportation to attend these schools at all. Cutting bus transportation will substantially eliminate the diversity in the magnet schools and the magnets will become more segregated over time.

This is really the last straw in terms of consolidating inequality in Los Angeles and directly undermines the whole premise of having a desegregation assistance fund. What we need to do now is to block this change, make sure that magnet schools continue, and that they are reviewed, so that the ones that are failures are eliminated, and ones that are good are supported and expanded. We need to make sure that students from all parts of the city have the right to participate in this important alternative, which is one of the only real paths to college, particularly for disadvantaged students, that's left in the City of Los Angeles. This is a very important civil rights issue and Superintendent Deasy is correct in suing the state government over this issue.

For more information, please see: www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu.