Forum panel discusses how segregation in LA Unified schools is worse than ever
Mike Szymanski | July 28, 2016
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Parent and anthropologist Courtney Everts Mykytyn surprised some charter and traditional LA Unified educators at her lectures last weekend when showing that schools in Los Angeles and across the country are more segregated than at any other time in the nation’s history.
Mykytyn noted that Latino and African-American students in LA Unified are more segregated than even before the Civil Rights Movement and the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that helped integrate schools. She was approved by Superintendent Michelle King’s office to give two lectures last Saturday at the Promising Practices forum, and hers was among the most-attended of the day, becoming robust discussions among dozens of educators.
“This is really a hopeful time to be having this conversation,” Mykytyn said. “LA Unified is in a good position to be a leader in dealing with the challenges of integration.”
Among the findings that Mykytyn shared during her seminar was that, when offered choices of various schools, parents will self-segregate into schools of their same racial and socio-economic demographics. And statistics show that white and higher-income students who attend lower-performing integrated schools don’t suffer in their test scores and actually benefit from the experience.
“Children are more likely to go to school with kids just like them than at any other time in our nation’s history,” Mykytyn said. “There is a particular kind of segregation by socio-economic class that has long-lasting negative effects for all children.”
Mykytyn and her husband became active in their children’s education at their local school in Highland Park, and with other parents helped create a dual-language immersion program at Aldama Elementary School.
“I was adamant that I didn’t want to drive my kids all over the city to go to school; I wanted my kids to walk to school and play with neighborhood friends,” Mykytyn explained. “I really, really hate driving and knew that committing to driving to the charter school 10 miles away meant not only driving to and from school every day but also to and from kids’ friends’ houses 20 minutes in the opposite direction. Life is chaotic enough; why go to school in a different ZIP code?”
Now her son, 13, is in eighth grade and her daughter, 11, is in sixth grade, and both speak Spanish. They are now going to the Franklin Dual Language Academy. They are hoping to build a dual language program through high school at Franklin High.
“Middle-class families talk about these issues and really care about diversity,” Mykytyn said. “But too often, it’s simply about racial, ethnic diversity. That’s vitally important, of course. But if everybody is dropping off kids in their Prius, what is the diversity even if it is a different skin color? We need to think broader than that.”
Issues of the lack of socio-economic diversity came up with attendees at Saturday’s lectures including California’s National Distinguished Principal Marcia S. Reed of 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena, and Deb Smith, principal of Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Van Nuys, and Parker Hudnut, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Public Schools.
“We all have issues like this, it’s something that the parents at our schools are very concerned about,” Hudnut said.
Mykytyn said LA Unified should consider integration issues when assessing the performance of schools, not just test scores. She said she knows the state and district are looking at broader assessments to gauge a school’s success.
“Research shows there is a lot of value in attending diverse schools,” Mykytyn said.
Discussions in Mykytyn’s sessions were robust and they challenged some people’s assumptions and beliefs. “I was grateful for the responses,” she said. “I think this conversation about integration will continue with LAUSD.”
Mykytyn said she has heard many stories similar to her own where parents are told that their children should go to different schools where they would better fit into the population. Forced busing and white flight added to problems that only exacerbate segregation, she added.
“The key is changing what we’re comfortable with, and that is complicated and can be really difficult,” she said. “There’s so much hope for really doing good integration work, not just by social justice shaming.”
She added, “There is so much potential with what is going on at LAUSD. I’m not sad as much as excited and impatient.”