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Do Bused Kids Miss Out?

The Debate Over Quality Learning and After-School Earning

September 15, 1997|SHERWOOD ROSS | REUTERS

NEW YORK — Question: How does a teenager who spends a good part of the afternoon riding home on a school bus earn a little spending money after school?

Answer: With difficulty, if at all.

The question is not just academic.

"Some trips from Los Angeles to [suburban schools in] the San Fernando Valley take over an hour," said poverty researcher Michael Stoll of UCLA.

"It's primarily Latino and black kids, not white students, who are getting bused, and they are hit the hardest by unemployment," Stoll said.

Hugo Garcia, program director for El Centro del Pueblo in Los Angeles, which trains Latino youths for jobs, said busing "cuts into [students'] time to work part time. It cuts into their studying time and involvement in their school activities. They don't have money for this or money for that to make ends meet. It's a problem."

Added Ray Adkins, former director of social studies in the Broward County, Fla., school system: "I'd say most of the [after-school] jobs would require teens to be there four hours, or what's the point?"

Bused students are in a "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" situation, said urban sociologist James Johnson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"When you're bused to 'good' schools because of segregation, you're still having difficulty finding a spot in the labor market because you're spending most of your time in transit," he said.

"The other side is that if these kids are getting a better education in these suburban schools, the long-run outcome would be, at least one would hope, that they would secure a better spot in the labor market" upon graduation, he said.

Johnson said he's "not convinced kids are that much better off after being bused"; he would rather see them "involved in after-school educational opportunities that would enhance their skills."

Harry Holzer, a Michigan State University economist, believes quality learning is more important than after-school earning.

"Studies have shown that access to suburban schools for inner-city kids raises their performance somewhat and will have a positive impact on their future labor market opportunities. I would think the quality of the education is very important.

"The real question," Holzer said, "is how much of a loss do these [missed after-school] employment opportunities create? If people use this as an argument to make them go to school in their own district, it will limit [minority children's] educational opportunities."

In the 1950s, black youngsters were more likely to be employed than white children, said Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Now the advantage in employment rates is on the side of white youngsters," he said.

"Other countries say [students] should be studying," not working after school, he said. "Americans don't know very much compared with youngsters from other countries when they graduate from high school. One reason is that part of their time may be taken up in paid work."

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