L.A. Student Does Graduate-Level Research on His High School, Finds It Lacking L.A. Student Does Graduate-Level Research on His High School, Finds It Lacking
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L.A. Student Does Graduate-Level Research on His High School, Finds It Lacking

by Liz Dwyer

June 30, 2011

Do students in low-income neighborhoods understand the ways in which their schools are failing them? A group of teen researchers from some of the toughest high schools in Los Angeles do. As part of the UCLA-based Council of Youth Research, local students do graduate-level studies on their own schools and share their findings with their teachers and principals. This year the teens studied the availability of resources like books, computers, and counselors at their schools, and they're not happy about what they discovered.

Seventeen-year-old student Bernardo Torres attends Crenshaw High, where, according to the Los Angeles Unified school report card, during the 2009-2010 school year, only 3 percent of students scored proficient in math, and only 21 percent scored proficient in reading. Torres wrote in teen newspaper LA Youth that through his research on his school he discovered how widespread the lack of technology is on campus.

"The majority of our computers at Crenshaw are still running Windows XP, which was created in 2001. Also, teachers don’t assign work that requires students to use computers in the classroom, instead they teach only from textbooks. Out of seven classes I’m taking this semester, I’ve had to use computers in only two classes. In math class we researched statistics and in my English class we had to find information to support a persuasive essay. This affects my classmates and me because we need to know how to use the latest technology to succeed in college and once we have jobs. Teachers can help by requiring us to type our reports or assigning more research projects. Research projects are important because you learn to tell the difference between a trusted internet source and an unreliable internet source."

Sure, LAUSD has been hard hit by budget cuts, but why can't the second largest school district in the nation find the money to provide updated computers for students? Torres and some of his fellow researchers also found that in their math textbooks the word problems usually reference factory jobs instead of higher-level engineering or tech positions. And, on a trip to Beverly Hills High, the teen researchers got to see how unequal the distribution of resources between schools in wealthy areas and schools in lower income areas really is. While Beverly Hills has

"a whole science building filled with materials like models and dead animals for dissections. Crenshaw has just one science floor and is always short on materials. In my chemistry class, we had to take turns doing labs because there weren’t enough materials for everyone to do the labs at the same time."

With that kind of disparity, it's pretty clear which group of students is going to be prepared for those science and technology jobs of the future. There's simply not a level playing field when it comes to school resources, and there should be.

But how did the staff at Crenshaw respond to the research project findings? Torres says that after sharing them with the Crenshaw staff, his English teacher began requiring students to complete more research papers and use the internet to access information. As for his principal, Torres says she initially didn't seem thrilled with his findings but later wrote him a note saying that she'd "try her best to give us access to better technology. However, that was all that happened; we still use the same old computers."

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L.A. Student Does Graduate-Level Research on His High School, Finds It Lacking