Weisburst on Impact of Police in Schools

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst was mentioned in an Axios article about the presence of police officers on school campuses. Some school districts are considering replacing campus police officers with improved mental health services after studies have shown that Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately affected by disciplinary action in schools, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. Weisburst’s research also found that disabled students are disproportionately affected negatively when police or school resource officers rather than teachers and administrators maintain discipline. In her 2019 paper “Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for School Police on Student Discipline and Long-Term Education Outcomes,” Weisburst found that school police presence was associated with a decrease in both high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. Her analysis also confirmed that Black students experience the largest increases in discipline when police are on campus. Weisburst and others recommend increasing funding and quality of mental health services for students.

Climate Research Brightens an Elementary School Campus

The research of Urban Planning Assistant Professor V. Kelly Turner has helped to create a colorful gift for the children of Fernangeles Elementary School. A new mural melding art with science, and reflecting inspiration from youth in the community, was installed on the school’s Sun Valley campus this spring. Called “Beat the Heat,” the mural depicts a park with shade trees and a large purple paleta melting under a bright sun — all painted with a solar reflective coating that reduces surface temperatures up to 30%. Turner conducts research into the effectiveness of this coating as a climate change intervention that cities can use to combat the “urban heat island effect.” At Fernangeles Elementary, schoolchildren watched as Turner “took the temperature of the building” with a thermal camera that demonstrated the effect of the cooling paint. Turner then used the camera to measure the heat signatures of walls, the ground and a picnic table on campus, giving the students a real-world lesson in climate science. Artist Kristy Sandoval designed and painted the mural based on ideas conceived by youth from the environmental justice nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful. Mural collaborators include Dora Frietze-Armenta, Yesenia Cruz, Nicole Martinez, Diego Ortiz and Veronica Padilla of Pacoima Beautiful; Fernangeles Elementary Assistant Principal Carolina Gonzales; art historian Lizy Dastin; and Creative Paving Solutions, which manufactured the solar-reflective paint. The mural is the second spearheaded by Turner as part of a “green intervention” aimed at starting a conversation about climate change. The first, a massive rendering of the Greek god Zeus, was installed in South Los Angeles in 2019.

At left, artist Kristy Sandoval paints the image she designed with inspiration from youth who were asked how they like to keep cool. At right, an infrared image shot by Urban Planning Assistant Professor V. Kelly Turner shows hotter surfaces, including a metal bench, in yellow and cooler surfaces in purple.


Reber Addresses Inequalities in School Funding

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a commentary in The Hill about the need for more equitable distribution of federal funding for schools. Congress has increased school funding in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with aid distributed using a formula laid out in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which sends more money to high-poverty schools. However, Reber and Nora Gordon of Georgetown University argued that “funding under the program is not a clean proxy for economic disadvantage.” They recommended turning to “simpler and better alternatives for distributing much-needed additional funding for school infrastructure and to address educational inequities.” The Title I formula has created confusion and political pushback; for example, it directs more funding per student to larger districts compared to smaller ones with the same child poverty rate. “It is past time for Congress to address these concerns with additional funding distributed with an eye to equity,” they concluded.

Astor Links ‘Opportunity Structures’ to School Safety and Equity

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor co-authored an article for School Psychology Review that delineates the need for new studies on how opportunity structures — factors such as geographic location, gender, race, religion, nationality, ethnicity and family background — influence and shape patterns that impact school safety, school climate and bullying. The concept of opportunity structures has historically been used to study equity in the labor market. In education, it has been used to describe systemic racism in educational inequality. The authors apply school-centered ecological theory as a conceptual framework that links opportunity structures and school safety. They recommend further research on communities and families, creating positive school cultures and climates, and different types of educator bias that restrict opportunities and result in less safe environments. Astor, the Crump Professor of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, also holds an appointment with the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence, including sexual harassment, cyberbullying, discrimination hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use and teacher-child violence. Astor’s co-authors are Pedro Noguera, dean of USC’s Rossier School of Education; Temple University Associate Professor Edward Fergus; University of Pennsylvania Professor Vivian L. Gadsden; and Rami Benbenishty, professor emeritus at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. — Joanie Harmon

Park on Cumulative Effect of Heat on Learning

R. Jisung Park, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to KJZZ’s The Show about his research into the link between hotter temperatures and the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools. Park’s study, which measured the impact of heat exposure on reduced learning, found that the negative effect of heat is more pronounced in school districts serving underrepresented minorities. “Over time, if you experience more hot days during the school year, and especially if you go to school in an area that doesn’t appear to have adequate school facilities, for whatever reason, those small cuts do seem to add up in a way that actually ends up being measurable in your standardized achievement,” said Park, an assistant professor of public policy. “To the extent that education is such an important component of economic mobility, one would be concerned about the cumulative nature of these cuts.”

Park on New Research on Heat, Learning and the Racial Gap

The New York Times spoke to R. Jisung Park,, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, about new research showing that hotter temperatures widen the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools. Park’s study found that students performed worse on standardized tests for every additional day of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, suggesting a fundamental link between heat exposure and reduced learning. While those detrimental effects were observed across 58 countries, the U.S. data revealed a surprisingly pronounced effect on Black and Hispanic students, the study found. Park, an assistant professor of public policy, said the gap seemed to reflect the fact that minority students are less likely to have air-conditioning at school and at home. Being exposed to higher temperatures throughout the school year appears to take a cumulative toll, he said. “It’s like a thousand little cuts to your ability to focus and concentrate and learn,” Park said.

Astor Briefs Congress on Social Work and Student Well-Being

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor appeared at a congressional briefing focused on how social workers can help provide for the safety and educational achievement of students in light of calls to remove police from public schools. Many U.S. schools are patrolled by safety officers yet have no counselors, nurses or social workers on staff, adding to inequities that are deeply felt by Black, Latino, Native American and rural communities, Astor said. He called for a holistic national plan that re-envisions the role of schools in providing key social services to families struggling to feed, house and provide health care to their children. “There are needs at a mass scale that we probably haven’t seen in our country since the Great Depression,” said Astor, citing a recent policy brief he co-authored. Astor urged policymakers, education professionals, social workers and scholars to work together on a master plan that considers these core questions: “What do want our schools to look like in our country? What kind of democracy do we want to have? Should the zip code of a child dictate the kind of resources and opportunities they have?” The Sept. 23 online briefing was sponsored by a broad coalition of national social work organizations in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus, chaired by Rep. Barbara Lee of California. “We’ve got to bring the power of social work back to the schools,” Lee said during the briefing. “It is a matter of justice, and social workers are known for fighting for justice for everyone, especially our children.”

Astor Says Student Hunger Demands a National Solution

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor penned a commentary for CNN calling for a national plan of action to address the increase in child hunger in the wake of COVID-19. Astor, who recently published a research brief on social workers’ recommendations for reopening schools this fall, wrote that many students’ basic needs – such as food, housing and mental health – are not being adequately addressed. “Students are hungry today,” he wrote. “They cannot wait to eat only after a vaccine is found and distributed.” Pre-pandemic, approximately 5 billion free or reduced-price lunches were served to students across the country each year. Now, collective national action is urgently needed to make sure these schoolchildren do not go hungry, Astor argued. He called for expanded government funding, a public-private collaboration among food banks and food industry partners, and a redeployment of school police forces to reconnect the school and community in a spirit of care rather than feeding the school-to-prison pipeline. 


Concerns About Student Well-Being as Virtual Learning Resumes

The blog of the National Association of Social Workers spotlighted a report, co-authored by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, on the wide-ranging needs of schoolchildren as virtual learning resumes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A high proportion of students, especially from low-income families, are experiencing hunger, housing instability, health and mental health issues, and other challenges, according to the report, which drew its findings from a large-scale survey of school social workers around the country. These social workers play a key role in assessing students’ mental health and social care needs and connecting them with vital community resources, the article noted. The report called for a coordinated and comprehensive response from federal and state policymakers and national educational leaders to address the needs of students during the crisis. Astor co-authored the report with scholars from Loyola University Chicago, Cal State Fullerton, Hebrew University and UCLA.


Coordinated National Plan for Resuming Classes Urged

A research brief calling for a coordinated national plan to guide schools as they reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, co-authored by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, was highlighted on the blog of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. “There is absolute consensus that children need to be in school,” the blog’s author noted. “Tragically, this year countless families and children will experience unimaginable trauma because of all the uncertainty that accompanies a relentless pandemic.” The research brief from social welfare scholars at UCLA, Loyola University Chicago, Cal State Fullerton and Hebrew University identified concerns held by 1,275 school social workers from across the country. “We need a Manhattan Project-style initiative that pulls together all relevant professions — educators, administrators, school psychologists, counselors, social workers, nurses and other health professionals — to create strategic plans for the upcoming school year,” the scholars concluded.