A Guardian story on the harmful impact of extreme heat on communities of color cited research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park. Data from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that U.S. counties with large Black and Latino populations experience a disproportionately high number of days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the article said. Research by Park, an environmental economist at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, focuses on the effect of extreme heat on students’ ability to learn. His analysis of data from 10 million U.S. students over 15 years found that minority and low-income students who attend schools that lack air conditioning are particularly vulnerable. “Adapting to climate change is a matter of racial and economic justice, especially in schools,” said Park, who also discussed his research in an interview with America Adapts, beginning at minute 3:18.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a Brookings article offering policy guidance as the federal government hammers out a relief package to help schools safely resume classes. “Whether schools are open for in-person instruction, for distance learning or use a hybrid approach, they will need federal funding to prevent recession-lengthening layoffs and to support student learning,” Reber and co-author Nora Gordon of Georgetown University wrote. To equitably allocate aid to states, Congress should avoid the Title I formula used to support children in low-income households, they argued. Instead, they laid out alternative formulas that would promote local flexibility, avoid unnecessary strings and minimize confusion. “Whether adopting social distancing protocols for live instruction or developing remote-learning offerings, all schools will face new costs this school year that, without federal support, will undermine their ability to provide a quality education,” they wrote.
An Economist article discussing the effectiveness of school police officers cited research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst. In the 1990s, a federal crime bill included funding for “school resource officers,” leading to the widespread presence of police on the nation’s elementary, middle school and high school campuses. The article cited an ACLU report showing that 14 million students attend schools with a police officer on campus but no counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker. Still, many teachers call for reform rather than removal of the officers, according to an Education Week survey cited in the article. Weisburst’s research assessed student success in Texas school districts that used federal grants to hire resource officers. She found that they experienced a 2.5% decrease in high school graduation rates and a 4% decrease in college enrollment.
By Mary Braswell
As school districts nationwide grapple with how and when to safely reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey of 1,275 social workers across the United States shows the immensity of the challenge ahead.
The results of the survey, conducted by UCLA and research partners from Loyola University Chicago, Cal State Fullerton and Hebrew University, were published today in a research brief that calls on elected officials and other leaders to act quickly and invest heavily to bolster the nation’s schools.
In addition to concerns about online learning platforms and physical distancing protocols, the school social workers reported that many students and their families are struggling with their most basic needs during the COVID-19 era.
“They’re reporting overwhelming numbers of students who don’t have food, who don’t have stable housing or health services, whose families are suffering,” said the study’s co-author, Ron Avi Astor, a professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs who also has a faculty appointment at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.
“The national dialogue on reopening schools is not focused on this right now, but the social workers are telling us loud and clear that meeting basic human needs for a large number of students is the big issue schools face in the fall.”
The social workers who responded to the survey work with students from preschool to 12th grade, mostly in low-income and minority communities. Serving on the front lines in the most underserved schools, the social workers are uniquely equipped to identify the students’ social, mental health and physical needs — and to help address them once states and schools enter into a recovery phase, he said.
As one social worker who participated in the study noted, “Creating equitable education isn’t about checking off to-do lists. It’s about getting into the work of getting to know the needs of the community and meeting them where they are.”
The brief calls for the creation of a national rapid-response team including teachers, administrators, medical professionals, counselors, psychologists and social workers to provide guidance for schools as they weigh in-person, online or hybrid learning models.
“Every school district is reinventing the wheel over and over and over again, and we think it would be wise to have a clear national strategy,” Astor said.
The report also recommends that a national technical assistance center be created to help any school adjust its procedures, if needed.
“The reality around this virus is changing day to day,” Astor said. “We can’t just have one plan at the beginning of the year and wait until the end of the next year to find out it didn’t work.”
The policy recommendations call for the hiring of a massive number of social workers, nurses, psychologists and other professionals in the hardest-hit schools, many of which serve low-income and minority students.
“That’s going to cost money. But the teacher can’t do it alone,” said Astor, who added that state and federal investment is needed to expand support staff in schools that have historically been underfunded.
“If our country has trillions of dollars to bail out large wealthy corporations, we also have enough to create a Marshall Plan-like program to rebuild and provide basic supports to the nation’s students, schools and communities,” he said.
The report’s authors noted that their findings come amid calls for systemic change spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement. “The question of how to reopen and reinvest in schools that serve under-resourced communities and students of color has gained prominence and urgency,” they wrote.
In addition to providing resources and support for mental health, food, housing, transportation and medical services, a team of professionals is needed to locate and reengage the large number of students — up to 30%, according to some reports — who rarely showed up once classrooms went virtual this spring, the report found.
The recommendations are aimed at avoiding a “lost generation” of students, Astor said.
“That would be the epitome of social injustice,” he said. “We need a campaign to bring students who dropped out or disengaged due to systemic inaction back into the fold. We need to show that our schools are not just about sitting in the classroom and learning math or other academic subjects — that we care about their well-being as a whole.
“That’s a very important message for our country to send this generation of students and their families.”
Read the policy brief and technical report authored by Michael S. Kelly of Loyola University Chicago, Ron Avi Astor of UCLA, Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University, Gordon Capp of Cal State Fullerton and Kate R. Watson of UCLA.
By Les Dunseith
It was a UCLA Luskin commencement ceremony unlike any other — delivered remotely by keynote speaker John A. Pérez to honor 281 graduates scattered across the nation and around the world amid a pandemic.
“Clearly, these are not ordinary times,” Pérez said in his remarks, which remain available online and had been seen by a total of 1,265 new graduates and their loved ones as of midday Monday after the ceremony. The impact of the COVID-19 health crisis was obvious in the virtual setting, but Pérez, chair of the University of California Board of Regents and former speaker of the California Assembly, also took note of the political upheaval that has led hundreds of thousands of protesters worldwide to march for racial justice in recent weeks.
“My message to you today is also going to be somewhat different than usual. It has to be,” Pérez said. “It has to be different for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Stephon Clark and Sandra Bland and Eric Garner. For Sean Monterrosa and Manuel Ellis. And for Emmett Till and James Chaney and countless others — known and unknown — whose lives have been taken by the systemic racism that is the original sin and ongoing shame of our great nation.”
The new social welfare, planning and policy graduates earned their graduate degrees in extraordinary circumstances at a time that UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura views as a pivotal moment in the country’s history. He congratulated the Class of 2020 and also noted the high expectations they carry into their futures.
“This celebration is partly about what you have accomplished, but it is also about what you have yet to do,” said Segura, thanking the new graduates “for all that we expect you to do with all that you’ve learned.”
The virtual platform incorporated several wrinkles that set the 2020 celebration apart from previous UCLA Luskin graduations. In addition to the recorded remarks by Segura and Pérez, video presentations from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, UC President Janet Napolitano and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block were woven into the online presentation that was made available to all graduates.
Other aspects of the ceremony were able to be customized for each of the three departments that awarded degrees. So, Chair Laura S. Abrams spoke to the Social Welfare graduates, Chair Vinit Mukhija addressed the Urban Planning Class of 2020, and Chair Martin Gilens offered advice and congratulations to the new Public Policy alumni.
Instead of the past tradition in which names of individual graduates were read as they walked across the stage at Royce Hall to be handed a diploma, this year’s graduating students got a few moments of dedicated screen time to themselves. Each graduate’s name appeared on screen as part of the departmental ceremony, often accompanied by a photo and a personal message of thanks or inspiration provided by the graduating student as a text message or a video clip — or both. And an online “Kudobard” allowed family and friends to offer messages of congratulations to the Class of 2020.
The presentations by the student speakers were also unique to each department this year. All three spoke of the memorable circumstances that they and their classmates experienced while wrapping up their graduate degrees during such an extraordinary time in history.
“No one wanted this. No one wants to live in this type of world,” said Social Welfare speaker Akinyi Shapiro, who views her graduation as a time for both celebration and reflection. “Listen to those who are being attacked for nothing other than the color of their skin. Decide who we want to be as social workers, how we’re going to change our communities and commit to anti-oppressive practices that will make this country better.”
Amy Zhou noted that the stay-at-home order in Los Angeles took place just as the winter quarter was winding up at UCLA. “We had no idea that the last time my classmates and I would see each other at the end of the winter quarter would be the last time that we would see each other in person as a graduating class.”
Zhou took advantage of the virtual platform to include a series of video clips that showed her and her classmates pledging solidarity in their dedication to practice planning in a manner that will uplift their communities. “When one falls, we all fall,” they conclude, their voices in unison. “When one rises, we all rise.”
As with any commencement, the virtual ceremony was also an opportunity for the graduating students to acknowledge their mentors — the faculty, friends and, especially, family members who have helped them along their journeys.
“Muchisimas gracias,” said Kassandra Hernandez of Public Policy during her commencement remarks. “Thank you, mom and dad, for all that you’ve given me — all the sacrifices you have made for me.”
Hernandez then addressed her peers. “You are ready to take on the world and cause some change because we all know that that’s why we came to Luskin — to cause change.”
In his keynote address, Pérez also spoke of change. He talked about his time as a leader in California’s government, pointing to accomplishments such as health care reform and the creation of the state’s Rainy Day Fund. That financial reserve had grown to about $16 billion by the time of the pandemic, he noted, helping the current Legislature and governor lessen the economic damage from the COVID-19 downturn.
In Pérez’s view, making a meaningful difference to society requires not only a vision, but perseverance.
“As graduates of one of the nation’s premier schools for progressive planning and policy, you need to be among the leaders. Make ripples. Make waves,” he said. “Push yourself. Push the system. And when you think you’ve pushed enough, take a step, take a pause, and then push some more.”
By Les Dunseith
Families living in public housing developments with a history of gang violence and troubled relationships with law enforcement are seeing less crime and feeling safer because of a policing program launched in 2011 by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to a comprehensive analysis led by Jorja Leap, an adjunct professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
The Community Safety Partnership, or CSP, began in the Jordan Downs public housing development and later expanded to two other Watts locations, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts, as well as Ramona Gardens in Boyle Heights. The program assigns specially trained LAPD officers to work alongside residents to reduce crime by developing youth outreach, sports, recreational and other programs tailored specifically to their communities.
The yearlong UCLA-led evaluation compared crime rates in Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens with computer-generated, synthetic models of demographically similar neighborhoods that did not receive CSP services. The research team also conducted community-based research with officers and residents, logging 425 hours of observation, conducting 110 interviews and 28 focus groups, and completing close to 800 surveys as part of a mixed-methods research effort at Nickerson Gardens and Ramona Gardens. Clear majorities at both sites expressed support for this innovative program.
“Their lives were literally changed by CSP,” Leap said during a May 12 online meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission at which the study was publicly unveiled.
Leap is an expert on gangs whose academic research and community engagement in Watts spans four decades, including the Watts Leadership Institute, a 10-year initiative based at UCLA Luskin. She told the five members of the civilian commission that people interviewed by the UCLA team “felt it was safer to go outside, mingle with people, use green spaces.”
As part of the LAPD program, extra effort is made to bridge communication between officers and residents, many of whom have deep-seated distrust of the police. Leap said a critical component involves officers apologizing to community residents for past mistakes and incidents of brutality.
“We were the enemy — pure and simple — if you had the LAPD uniform on, it was as if you had a target on your back. If there were reports of a shooting, officers were not supposed to come in without back-up,” said one officer interviewed for the report. “That’s all changed. The residents of this community want CSP here, they want this community to be safe. They welcome us.”
The impact on crime is significant. According to the analysis, in a one-year period, CSP has led to seven fewer homicides, 93 fewer aggravated assaults and 122 fewer robberies than would otherwise have been expected at Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens.
Statistics like those, plus the high level of resident support found by researchers, encouraged Leap to recommend to the commission that CSP serve as a model for department-wide LAPD policing efforts. The relationship-based focus could also be helpful in other crisis situations, including public health problems such as opioid abuse or the current coronavirus pandemic, she said.
“It could be extremely useful for epidemic crises, including homelessness and the pandemic,” Leap told the commission. “This is the type of approach that represents a new and important paradigm in law enforcement.”
The program has already expanded beyond Watts and Boyle Heights to housing developments in South Park and San Fernando Gardens, as well as the neighborhood surrounding Harvard Park. That expansion was funded by the Ballmer Group, co-founded by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, and the Weingart Foundation, which, along with The California Endowment and several private donors, were among the seven funders of the $500,000 UCLA study.
The report describes many positive outcomes related to CSP, but it also identified several shortcomings.
“It is not all sunshine and roses,” Leap warned the commission, adding that the community was skeptical regarding the department’s commitment. “This must become part of the DNA of the LAPD and not a hit-and-run program that is gone in a few months.”
Some respondents questioned the level of community involvement in CSP activities, for example, saying that the officers implemented some programs without first seeking resident participation. Many residents — and even some of the officers — also expressed confusion about the specifics of the program.
“Everyone understood it was about relationships. Pretty much everyone understood it was about building trust,” Leap said. “Nevertheless, there was tremendous confusion” about the CSP model and a strong desire from all parties for better documentation of the program’s components.
Leap said the level of support for CSP in the study differed according to demographic characteristics.
Overall, she said, women were the leaders in both of the housing developments that were studied, and women were slightly more supportive of CSP than men. On the other hand, she noted, there were major differences in terms of ethnicity.
Latino residents predominantly supported CSP, Leap said. “Where we got push-back and mixed results,” particularly on community surveys, was among African Americans. The researchers were able to delve into the underlying reasons for this response during their interviews and focus groups.
“It should come as no surprise — African Americans have had the most tumultuous history” with law enforcement in Los Angeles, said Leap, who noted that incidents of police violence against blacks in other parts of the country in recent years have only added to longstanding tensions between the community and the LAPD. “There are many individuals who carry this history and this mistrust.”
In the report, one interviewee said: “Don’t say everyone loves CSP because not everyone loves CSP. There’s some people who think it’s a bunch of bull. There’s some people who are never gonna trust the police. And there’s some people who are waiting to be convinced. They’re waiting to see if the CSP sticks around or — if once all the publicity goes away — then [the CSP officers] go away.”
That concern was echoed in the report, which included a recommendation to increase funding for CSP and a designation of the program as a permanent part of the LAPD’s law enforcement strategy.
Staying the course over time is important to Leap. She pledged that this study will be just one part of an ongoing effort by her research team, which included UCLA Luskin social welfare professor Todd Franke, a methodological and systems expert, and UCLA anthropology professor P. Jeffrey Brantingham, who is a lead researcher for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Gang Reduction and Youth Development program. Also on the research team were UCLA research associate Susana Bonis and UCLA Luskin alumna Karrah Lompa, who served as the project manager. Several students, some of whom grew up in Watts and Boyle Heights, joined project staff in conducting field research and data analysis. A multicultural advisory board helped guide the study and will contribute to follow-up efforts.
The key to the program’s success is cooperation. Leap told the commissioners something she has repeated in public meetings: “The community truly partners with the police — this is not rhetoric but a meaningful model.”
Barbara Nelson, former dean of the School of Public Affairs at UCLA and professor emerita of public policy, social welfare, urban planning and political science, received recognition at the 2020 International Women’s Day Conference held at Dhaka University in Bangladesh in March for her award-winning 1994 study, “Women and Politics Worldwide.” Nelson co-edited the book with Najma Chowdhury, a professor in Women and Gender Studies at Dhaka whose lifetime achievements were also honored at the conference. They studied 43 countries and territories focusing on women’s political engagement in state organizations and civil society. In 1995, the book won the American Political Science Association’s Victoria Schuck Award for the best book on women and politics. Nelson’s 12-year tenure as dean ended in 2008. She was invited to speak in Bangladesh about the book and her collaboration with Chowdhury but was unable to attend because of travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Her address was delivered on her behalf at the conference.
Professor Ron Avi Astor and Ph.D. student Kate Watson of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare teamed up with Professor Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University to create a set of questionnaires to assess how well teachers, students, parents and others are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. The questionnaires have been widely distributed to social workers, educators and psychologists at no cost. “Schools can respond better to the most pressing needs of their students, teachers and families amid the COVID-19 pandemic by hearing the entire community,” Astor told Ampersand, a publication of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Sample questionnaires, available at these links for teachers, students and parents, may be used in conjunction with abridged versions of two books co-authored by Astor and Benbenishty: “Mapping and Monitoring Bullying and Violence: Building a Safe School Climate” and “Welcoming Practices: Creating Schools That Support Students and Families in Transition.” Astor and Benbenishty will also appear at a free UCLA Luskin Summit webinar on “A New Normal for Schools During the Pandemic” on Monday, May 4, at 9:30 a.m. To register and attend the webinar, visit this link.
Here is Ampersand’s full interview with Astor:
Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber was featured in a Los Angeles Times report about the controversy over a faculty recommendation to keep the SAT and ACT tests as admission requirements for the University of California system. In a letter to the Board of Regents, Reber and two other education and economics experts, Michal Kurlaender of UC Davis and Jesse Rothstein of UC Berkeley, criticized the recommendation, which was made by faculty representing all 10 UC campuses. Reber and her co-authors instead recommended the use of a state assessment called Smarter Balanced, which research shows is as predictive of college performance as the SAT with less bias against disadvantaged students. Reber called for all campuses to admit more students who graduate with high GPAs but low test scores, then to hold them accountable for their academic success once enrolled. UC Regents are scheduled to meet in May to vote on the issue.
UCLA’s Master of Public Policy department is hosting a virtual statement of purpose brainstorming session. This session is for prospective students who would like to begin to conceptualize their statement of purpose. The workshop will:
*Educate prospective students on the statement of purpose structure and flow of ideas
* Interact with Admissions Officer and current MPP student
* Participants will leave the workshop with a skeleton outline of their statement of purpose
This is an interactive webinar and participants will be asked to share-out ideas. Please have with you a piece of paper and pencil/pen for you to brainstorm. RSVP to receive zoom link days prior to the event.
In collaboration with the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Southern California Chapter and UCLA’s Master of Public Policy program, this panel will showcase PPIA and UCLA MPP alumni who are now working as policy professionals in government agencies, non-profits/NGOs, research centers and/or think tanks. Participants will be able to hear about diverse experiences in policy career trajectories and receive valuable advice on how to prepare themselves for the career they want. The panel will include a Q&A section for participants to further engage with the panelists. RSVP to receive a link in the days prior to the event.