A good deal about California, in its own preferred terms, does not add up.California, in particular Los Angeles, is defined by its contradictions. It’s a place of indescribable beauty teetering on the edge of environmental disaster. It exudes a glamour and carefree spirit that draws thousands of hopefuls, but as you stroll through the city’s rejuvenated downtown area, you see rows of tents nearby inhabited by the homeless. The University of California system is the nation’s crown jewel of public higher education, yet prisons comprise a bigger chunk of the state’s budget. Perhaps the most glaring contradiction of California is how it regards K-12 education as both a priority and an afterthought.
The jaw-dropping takeaway here is that the average home price near the highest-ranking public schools in L.A. is $1,430,000, the report from RentCafe found.The same RentCafe report the article refers to determined most high-achieving schools are concentrated in one wealthy area of Los Angeles:
It defines highest top-ranking campuses as those with ratings of between 8 and 10 on the GreatSchools site. Those compose 12 percent of public elementary schools in L.A. Most of these campuses are on the Westside, the report states. That makes sense, since the median home price on the Westside is now $1.2 million.To live in proximity to an excellent public school, a resident of Los Angeles will have to pony up seven figures. Pause here for a second. But what about renting? The outlook does not improve much, according to the report: “Renters spend approximately $617 more on rent every month to live near top-performing elementary schools in L.A. than those living near low-ranking schools,” a RentCafe spokeswoman said. “That amounts to more than $7,400 a year. The average rent in a bad-schools neighborhood is $1,614, while the same in a good-schools area is $2,231, the site says. That’s a 38 percent rent difference.” Los Angeles has one of the most unaffordable rental markets in America. Given the median income in the city is $49,497, the majority of the city’s residents can barely pay their rent let alone purchase a home when the average cost is over $570,000. Low- and middle-income Angelenos pay a staggering percentage of their salaries on housing for no guarantee of being able to send their children to a decent school. It’s magical thinking to pretend the vast majority of the city’s residents living outside the tony Westside have equal access to a quality education. And even more magical to think that will change if data used to monitor school quality and funding is cast aside.
If 25 percent of school site staff are missing 5 percent or more of their work during the school year, the loss of instruction time and productivity, and the expense of finding substitute labor, is deeply troubling.California ranks 46th on fourth and eighth grade NAEP scores and the state’s dismal results are further magnified when examined along racial lines. Fewer than 1 in 4 Latino children and fewer than 1 in 5 African-American children are proficient in math.
At root, the problem is trust. For the last half century, education politics has been built on profound distrust of school districts to act in the best interests of poor and minority students. Civil rights efforts in the United States were born of this reality.As long as California has a shaky relationship with this reality, distrust will only grow as will the exodus from traditional public schools. And the following kernel of sarcasm, taken from the aforementioned L.A. Weekly article, will continue to be a rueful joke. “California is the ultimate land of opportunity. And everyone has an equal chance." “OK, you can stop laughing now.”
Caroline Bermudez is chief storyteller at the Charter School Growth Fund and former senior writer at Education Post. Bermudez has been a journalist for almost 10 years. She was staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving. She has interviewed prominent business, political and philanthropic leaders including Colin Powell, Ronald Perelman, Carl Icahn, Patty Stonesifer and Eli Broad. She also assisted with The Chronicle's Philanthropy 50, its annual ranking of America's most generous donors. A proud graduate of Chicago Public Schools, she has a B.A. in history from Swarthmore College.
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