Let’s do a little thinking about magnet schools in LAUSD.

Currently, there are 696 schools in LAUSD. 476 of these are classified as “Elementary”, of which 39 are financially dependent charter schools (FDC).  85 are classified as “Middle”, of which 4 are FDC.  108 are classified as “Senior”, of which 2 are “pilot” schools.  19 schools span Elementary and Middle school grades, 7 span Middle and Senior grades and 1 spans both. (table 1)

Screen shot 2013-11-21 at 2.43.07 AM

Of these 696 schools, 155 are magnets and 45 are financially dependent charters.  These are distributed between board members’ districts as follows:

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…and the magnet schools are very disproportionately high in number among Steve Zimmer’s district 4 and very disproportionately low among Mónica Garcia’s district 2.  The distribution of financially dependent charters is just about the same between districts.

But how are these distributed according to a schools’ poverty concentration?

The schools of overwhelming poverty concentration are focused in Garcia’s district, but board members Kayser’s and Ratliff’s districts are also overwhelmed by large numbers of schools of extremely concentrated poverty.  It has been said that nearly all of LAUSD is a zone of high poverty concentration, as seen in graph 1.  This depicts the percentage of schools at or above the poverty concentration listed on the x-axis.  Every board member has more than half of their schools struggling with a student population more than 50% of whom live in poverty.  Under such circumstances making a distinction between poor and overwhelmingly poor has little meaning.

graph 1

dist of school pc Gr1

Federal Title I guidelines mandate funding to schools of poverty concentration at 75% or above and permit funds to be distributed at the discretion of local education agencies among schools of lesser poverty concentration, between 35% and 75%.  It is important to see just how many of these schools exist in LAUSD and understand the sea of humanity these statistics translate to.  There is a tragic insufficiency of funds available to educate the children left in our public schools.  Poor is poor and this is a condition prevalent in nearly all our schools, among most of our students.

How we choose to spend our limited funds must therefore be scrutinized meticulously.  In particular, gifting millions of dollars worth of electronic gadgetry of dubious educational utility or necessity seems especially disturbing given the paucity of resources available.  Rather than pinching pennies to anoint one sort of poor more worthy than another, the intense focus should be on the pounds and pounds of lard being slathered across the district for an ill-conceived, ill-prepared and ill-awarded contract. No one denies that children of poverty deserve the same access to modern amenities as those removed from poverty.  This is all the more reason to husband our resources wisely.  Foolish, indiscriminate spending results in less available, in a less focused way.  Why was no consideration given to the sort of electronics programs other districts have enacted where it is possible to utilize already-owned hardware?  Who benefits from the purchase of a glut of electronics?  To paraphrase one Bond Oversight Committee member: “an Apple salesman is going to be having a very nice holiday season this year, but how much benefit from this expenditure is accruing within our district?…”  A penny saved is a penny earned; we are being penny wise with our Title I entitlement, and pound foolish with our construction bond monies.

Note well the winners and losers:  ALL children are the losers, and the economically disadvantaged lose disproportionately.  They are losing through the gerrymandering of Title I funds, and they are defrauded through the reckless diversion of monies intended to buttress their infrastructure and physical environment.  Instead their money is shunted toward the deceptive panacea of electronics salvation, by the winners themselves in this game:  Adults.  Corporatized adults.  The ones with most of the money already.  Some of whom are employees of the self-same district tasked with educating … our children.

How do the magnet schools cluster with regard to school poverty concentration?  Magnet schools are federally mandated to entice children beyond the confines of their neighborhood with the carrot of a deliberately themed school, e.g., “performing arts” or “science” or “gifted/talented”.  Almost by definition in desegregating the school and drawing children away from pockets of highly concentrated poverty, the overall poverty concentration of a school will diminish.  This can be seen through the same kind of graph that showed how the poverty concentration of schools varied between districts (graph 1).  Graph 2 depicts the distribution of poverty concentration among magnets and non-magnet district schools.  Approximately 74% of non-magnet schools have a student population living in poverty greater than 75% compared with approximately 23% of magnets.

graph 2

magnet pov concent GR2

And because magnets are not distributed between districts evenly, some districts have disproportionately high numbers of non-magnet schools and their attendant higher poverty concentration.

Graph 3 depicts how magnets have been effective in deconcentrating pockets of poverty.  And yet all three graphs show that there is no appreciable drop in the concentration of poverty among schools of 40%-49%.  Regardless of magnet status, this is no sudden drop in poverty concentration between 40% and 49%; these schools are substantially like those of higher poverty concentration schools.

So the only effect of denying funds to the children attending schools of 40%-49% poverty concentration, is that the district is undermining federal, and its very own efforts at supporting desegregation via the magnet school program.  By withholding federal antipoverty monies from schools of middling poverty concentration, the district threatens reversion among precisely those schools that have demonstrated a method for combatting poverty.

graph 3

dist of mag school pc G3

Finally, it should be noted there are disproportionately fewer magnets of middling poverty concentration, though the numbers of students served by a discrete school can vary enormously (graph 4).

graph 4

Preview of “graph4”

Graphs and tables may cause eyes to glaze over, but in order to “titrate” the distribution of Title I funds between schools of lesser poverty concentration, it must be understood how poverty, and the schools consigned to teach dense concentrations of its victims, are distributed through the district.  It makes sense to fund children of poverty at the school level.  It does not make sense to disenfranchise children of poverty by virtue of the progressive effort to ameliorate poverty through desegregation.