50 Years After East LA Walkouts

Agonizingly slow progress in fast changing times.

In 1968 Latino students walked out of public high schools in East Los Angeles in protest of unequal educational conditions. 50 years later what has changed? CA’s Latino graduation rate has improved but unequal conditions and poor educational outcomes persist and graduating students are often unprepared for college. That’s in significant part because billions of dollars are being diverted from classrooms, too many under-performing teachers are spared from dismissal, and pay and support isn’t differentiated for teachers in high poverty schools.

This year California will spend $16,000 per pupil:

Governor’s Budget Summary, page 23

Yet in many cases only half that money will make it to classrooms! That’s in large part because money is being diverted to county boards of education and to pensions and health costs for retired employees. That leaves too little for current teacher salaries and support. In turn that exacerbates educational inequality because parents in affluent districts can afford to subsidize their districts while those in less affluent settings cannot.

At the same time, teachers taking on more difficult environments aren’t paid more for doing so and principals can’t dismiss poorly performing staff. Whereas the typical business or non-profit differentiates pay and dismisses 5-10 percent of employees per year, CA public school systems aren’t allowed to differentiate pay and terminate fewer than .5% of employees. Surely not all of CA’s 300,000 public school employees perform at the same level, take on the same tasks, or can be so competent that 99.5% of them deserve to be retained year in and year out.

This year California will devote $95 billion to K-12 education:

Governor’s Budget Summary, page 34

The results are unacceptable. Fewer than half of the state’s six million students read at grade level and even fewer perform math at grade level. For far too long, apologists have blamed everything but the laws and rules that prevent improved student performance yet benefit those who pocket much of that $95 billion. For student performance to improve the state must (i) stop diverting money from classrooms to pensions, other retirement costs and county boards of education so school districts can field more teachers and pay them better, (ii) let school districts differentiate pay and support for teachers serving in high-poverty and other difficult environments, (iii) stop granting permanent employment, and (iv) permit principals to terminate under-performing employees.

50 years after the Walkouts Latinos now comprise the majority of California’s public school students. They deserved better 50 years ago. They and their fellow students deserve better now. The California Legislature should act.