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Report: Minority Students 'Shortchanged'

Schools with more blacks and Latinos have lower-paid instructors who are less qualified, a group says its study of teacher salaries shows.

September 15, 2005|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

In California's largest school districts, teachers who work in schools with predominantly poor and minority students aren't paid as much as their counterparts at more affluent campuses within the same district, according to a report by an education advocacy group released Wednesday.

The lower levels of spending often mean that less-experienced teachers are instructing the children who have the greatest needs, according to the study, which found the inequity in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana, San Bernardino and eight other large school districts.

"African American and Latino and low-income students across the state are being shortchanged big time when it comes to teachers' salaries," said Russlynn Ali, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an advocacy organization in Oakland devoted to closing the gap in achievement of African American and Latino students, versus whites and Asians. "This inequity we exposed today in teacher spending amounts to a perverse subsidy to wealthier schools paid for by poor schools."

However, Santa Ana Supt. Al Mijares said of the study, "I find it to be riddled with errors. It seems to me that someone took a bunch of numbers and made irresponsible comparisons. I don't think whoever wrote this study really had a grasp of the facts and knew how to interpret the data and make accurate findings."

The study compared overall teacher salaries among schools in the same district and routinely found six-figure disparitiesin total teacher salaries that are largely prompted by union agreements allowing more experienced teachers to choose where they work, the group said. Senior teachers end up going to more affluent and higher-performing schools, leaving newer teachers to work in schools with more needy students.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said he found the findings "disturbing, but not surprising."

"People will tend to gravitate toward newer schools and less-challenging environments -- it's human nature," he said. "We need to help change the culture....This is one more indication that the pernicious achievement gap needs to be addressed."

Some disparities highlighted in the report are striking, such as a comparison of two Los Angeles high schools: Locke, with nearly 100% minority enrollment and 66% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches -- an indicator of poverty -- and higher-performing Granada Hills, with about 32% minority enrollment and about 27% eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. The average teacher at Locke is paid about $8,000 less than the average Granada Hills teacher, a discrepancy that if rectified would add nearly $1 million in total teacher spending at Locke.

Deborah Hirsh, chief human resources officer at the Los Angeles Unified School District, said some data in the report are outdated, but agreed with the overall findings.

"Some of the most challenging schools -- they have higher turnover and they have a more junior staff," she said. "Urban school districts should do everything possible to get the very best possible teachers where they are needed the most."

Hirsh said that L.A. Unified had worked to recruit more qualified teachers, and that 91% are now fully credentialed. Additionally, the district has placed "new-teacher coordinators" at several schools to provide staff support, she said.

Other educators called the report flawed and misleading.

"It gives a distorted view," said Linda Hill, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino City Unified School District. "As a teacher who taught in the district for 13 years, I never heard one person say 'I want to teach at a school of mostly white kids.' "

Dean Vogel, secretary-treasurer of the California Teachers Assn., said he found the study's focus on teacher salaries inappropriate. Rather, the spotlight should be on increasing education funding in the state and improving working conditions, he said. "When we ask teachers what would it take to attract you to [lower-performing] schools, it's very interesting. You hear the same thing over and over again: smaller class sizes, safe and clean classrooms, adequate supplies and materials."

Information about every school district in the state is available at http://www.hiddengap.org.

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