November 01, 2013// News
November 01, 2013// News
By Daniel Heimpel
Foster kids still less likely to succeed in California schools
Improving the educational outcomes of foster youth starts one student at a time.
Earlier this month, a groundbreaking report described the academic lives of 43,104 foster youth and compared them to both other statutorily disadvantaged students, as well as all the nearly 6 million students who attended California public schools in the 2009-10 school year.
Across the board, save some troubling lows for English Language Learners, foster youth proved to be the most likely afforded negative academic opportunity, the most impacted by trauma, and subsequently, the least likely to succeed.
Of the 5,043 foster students attending the Los Angeles Unified School District’s 1,000-odd schools, 192 were seniors. Among the 128 who would graduate that year, was Roy Clarke, then a student at Westchester High School.
He shared the same dream as three quarters of high-school-aged foster youth statewide: to attend college. But only about half of all foster youth will graduate high school. More than two thirds of those who do not, will not go onto attend any college. But Roy did, and when he decided to go to college, joined the 69 percent of foster youth grads who do the same thing.
Roy had some advantages.
At 6, Roy and his younger sister were first removed from the custody of their mother, only to be placed back in her care after a stay with an aunt. The second time social workers from Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services intervened was after Roy’s mother attacked him with a crowbar in a Jack-in-the-Box parking lot. Both times the social workers came he remembers feeling relieved. “I was happy,” he said. “I was happy to get away.”
At 15, Roy moved to his grandmother’s house. He is still there today, at age 22. For those important adolescent years, Roy was rooted to his South Los Angeles neighborhood and enjoyed school stability. Only two thirds of the students in foster care during Roy’s senior year made it the entire year without a school move, as compared to 90 percent of their similarly disadvantaged peers, according to the report released last week.
But for the benefits, and Roy’s resilience, making it through Los Angeles Trade Technical College — a 25-acre eruption of monolithic buildings not far from Skid Row — was still far from certain. Having managed the hurdles of high school, he was now attending one of California’s 112 highly impacted community colleges, where self-reporting campuses identified as many as 16,000 foster youth in the spring of 2013. Whether at the community college or university level, 26 percent of foster youth across the country manage to stay in school, or persist, as compared to 56 percent of students nationwide.
But here is the point in the story where the numbers stop working against Roy and foster youth like him. He is one of 167 students who participate in Trade Tech’s Guardian Scholars program, which does everything it can to see young people move up and on. There are around 80 other California campuses with similar programs, according to a 2012 evaluation of the California College Pathways initiative, which serves as the umbrella for such programs. Persistence rates among the 14 campuses surveyed ranged from 42 percent to 92 percent, blowing past the national average for foster youth on all counts and beating the general population in many.
Roy, soon to finish his studies at Trade Tech, weighs the costs and benefits of enrolling in a private arts school to continue his studies in fashion design. He understands that to do so would require going into debt, something he has proudly avoided up until this point.
So now Los Angeles, I offer you a simple challenge. Find out why LAUSD does better than the state average in terms of foster youth graduation rates, and build up those numbers. Feed Trade Tech with more foster youth. Find the money to pay for the growing demand. Give the program what it needs to experiment, test and improve. Stay committed.
The reward for accepting this challenge is knowing that every day there is one more Roy Clarke out there. Young men and women, who, while not free of the cruelty they experienced as children, are free from the continued cruelty of being forsaken of a fair chance at success.
Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections, the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change and a lecturer at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.
Story originally published for the Los Angeles Daily News here: http://www.dailynews.com/opinion/20131029/foster-kids-still-less-likely-to-succeed-in-california-schools-guest-commentary