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“The territorial imperative is threatening to rip apart Locke High School...It recently became the latest battleground for Black and Latino students fighting for turf and respect throughout Los Angeles.” Thus begins Joe Dominick’s prophetic article in the Los Angeles magazine, May 1996; it bears striking resemblance to the melee earlier this month at Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles between Black and Latino students.
It was the latest indictment of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) bankrupt race relations policies and practices. LAUSD seems to have no clue as how to best deal with racial/ethnic problems, especially between Blacks and Latinos. Its crisis-oriented knee-jerk modus operandi does not address crucial causal factors. (The same dysfunctional approach is evident in the failure to acknowledge, let alone deal with, the needs of Black students, its lowest achievers.) Locke’s déjà vu is a sobering snapshot of crippling of institutional neglect.
Black students continue to languish in obscurity. Only once (2001) did the Board of Education adopt policy that focused exclusively on Black students. But out of the public eye, it became a very different animal—”An Action Plan for a Culturally Relevant Education that Benefits African American students and All Other Students.” (“And All Other Students” negated exclusive focus on Black students, offering instead a circuitous strategy (cultural relevance) not centered on achievement.
Strong leadership does not exist in LAUSD. Superintendent David Brewer is a disappointment—eighteen months into his watch and still no clearly chartered course. Brewer is virtually silent on the crisis in educating Blacks, disappointing even those chiefly responsible for his coming to Los Angeles. Aloofness and failure to provide leadership could signal his early departure.
The handling of recent scandals involving alleged cover up of sexual molestation coupled with the melee at Locke High School, underscore LAUSD’s propensity for form over substance i.e., in general, bureaucratic, not humans concerns are accorded top priority. Brewer and Dr. Ramon Cortines, newly appointed second-in-command, returned the principal and assistant principal at South Gate High to duty despite criminal charges. Many parents saw this and a threat to their children’s safety believe that the pair would not have been returned to work in a more affluent community.
Parents and concerned others, including students, must become dissatisfied enough to mount sustained protest and demand an end to the pervasive inequities in inner-city schools.
Charter schools are schools of choice for many Black and Latino parents even though research shows no significant difference between their achievement scores and those of regular schools. Charter schools attract the more motivated students and parents ( not necessarily the brightest) but leave intact the poorest and lowest achieving schools. In addition, whatever benefits accrue to charters, do not benefit with those schools left behind.
Gang-related issues are another area where LAUSD is more spectator than leader. It lacks comprehensive, long-term prevention/intervention strategies designed to alleviate gang-related problems in the school. Locke’s rocky transition to a Green Dot Charter School is a case in point: LAUSD prior support, as well as assisting the transition is largely rhetorical, the required commitment and resources were, and still are missing.
Teacher experience, qualifications and salary inequities in poor, predominantly Black and Latino schools compared to those in low poverty, high achieving schools virtually guarantee inequitable outcomes.
Efforts are underway have potential for increasing the quality of education but it is too early to gauge their effectiveness. For example, it remains to be seen whether LAUSD’s Innovation Division will actually succeed in assisting schools with focused attention and resources that make a discernible difference.
The plethora of reforms include smaller learning communities—to counter the District’s pervasive overcrowding—rigorous staff development for teachers and other proposed strategies, none of which accord Black students’ needs top priority. The argument that for legal reasons, Black students cannot receive exclusive focus is suspect. These students are at the bottom in achievement and other areas and warrant focused attention and resources commensurate with their needs.
A Black Educational Civil Rights Agenda focuses on improving the quality of education for Black students; Education is defined as a civil right and its premise is, “justice remains the most significant civil right that has not been provided to all African American students.” The four focus areas are educational policies and practices, improved high school graduation rates, understanding and coping with gender specific needs, and support for parents and families of underachieving African American students. The plan has not been presented to the LAUSD Board of Education.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s “Partnership” (technically a part of LAUSD’s Innovation Division) is well underway but it is much too early to assess its merits. They enjoy the mayor’s commitment and have substantial autonomy to initiate new practices and standards. Presumably, they also have adequate operational money to operate and employ sufficient staff to attain stated goals. Hopefully, the Partnership will demonstrate the critical value of an approach that recognizes and capitalizes on the interrelatedness of all ingredients necessary to improve the quality of education.
Leadership is the linchpin of concrete educational change and LAUSD’s damnable negligence, particularly regarding Black students, borders on criminal. Parents and concerned others too must meet their proper responsibilities. And they must demand that LAUSD provides a quality education for all students, bar none.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail