New State Numbers Reveal Education Inequity for Foster Youth

Today, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction released new data that sheds light on the crisis for students in foster care: based on academic testing in the 2014/15 school year, 87% of foster youth statewide failed to meet Mathematics standards, compared to 67% of students in general, and over 80% failed to meet English Language Arts standards, compared with 56% of the general student population.

“The new data clearly indicates that foster youth are performing significantly below the state averages, and below low income students,” says Jill Rowland, attorney and Education Program Director at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “Young people in foster care are too often moved from placement to placement by the child welfare system, and we know that they fall behind in their education an average of six months every time they change schools. The data gives school districts a way to measure the impact of these educational disruptions for foster youth, so that we can ignite a movement to address the problem.”

This is the first time the CDE has reported educational data for foster youth. The data:

  • Makes the invisible achievement gap visible.
  • Provides a baseline for measuring progress toward closing the foster youth achievement gap which is required under LCFF.
  • Provides County Offices of Education and districts with the information they need to craft Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) that meaningfully address the needs of students in foster care.

Before the end of the calendar year, the California Department of Education will also provide data on foster youth suspension/expulsion rates, graduation rates, and school instability, which is the most significant barrier to improving the education outcomes of children in foster care

Models proven to address the crisis in education for foster youth do exist. The Alliance for Children’s Rights successfully piloted a program in Bonita Unified School District that improved timely enrollment and transfer of credits, raised high school graduation rates by 4.5% in a single year, and resulted in more students going on to college. According to Mark Rodgers, Senior Director of Student Services at Bonita Unified School District, “Our improved procedures and great teamwork among district office, foster youth liaisons and school staff resulted in 99% of students transferring mid-semester receiving partial credits. In addition, our improved partnership with local group homes has resulted in almost half of new foster youth being enrolled within 24 hours of arriving in the district.”

One such student, Alex Torres, graduated from Bonita Unified last year and is now attending Mt. San Antonio College, after receiving assistance from Mo Williams, foster youth liaison at Bonita Unified. “When you are in foster care, something happens at the group home or you get news from your social worker about your family and that destroys your motivation and passion,” Alex says. “You can’t go to an average teacher because it’s out of their scope of practice. So having that foster care liaison who understands and who can be your compass in the high school experience is invaluable.”

The state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) created sweeping changes in the way schools are funded, requiring schools to coordinate services for students in foster care. However, the 80+ school districts in LA county and more than a thousand others across the state lack a coherent model for how to provide such coordination. Bonita Unified represents what can be achieved when districts partner with child welfare agencies to respond to LCFF mandates.

The Alliance for Children’s Rights is a leading free legal services organization focused on protecting the rights of impoverished, abused and neglected children. For more information, visit kids-alliance.org/edtoolkit.