A Black Educational Civil Rights Agenda was formed a year ago to address historic, documented educational under achievement of African Americans in public schools throughout the nation.
The following is a summary of an Education Is A Civil Right meeting held last September to hear from the LAUSD Superintendent and superintendents from surrounding districts on the critical issue of the status of Black students. Dr. Bill Cosby provided start-up funding for this effort.
The purpose of the meeting was to have an open discussion between Dr. Bill Cosby, LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer, and other Southern California superintendents to address the educational status of African American students. Dr. George McKenna, Assistant Superintendent, Pasadena USD, served as moderator. He emphasized the Education Is a Civil Right Committee’s (ECRC) expectation that certain priorities relating to participants’ local school districts would be addressed. These included identification of specific staff or department that is formally responsible for addressing the specific achievement of African American students; demonstration or pilot schools/programs that are successfully addressing one or more of the focus areas in the Black Educational Civil Rights Agenda (BECRA); identifying plans-in-place in which officials and staff are responsible for initiating pilot programs that do not now exist and would address the focus areas in the Black Civil Rights Agenda (BECRA).
Dr. Cosby: Dr. Cosby stated that the idea focusing on Black kids is based on his concern for others and the realization that some folks don’t like children. He believes that if children are not getting an education, those responsible should be sued. He insists that we (adults) are in charge of these children and that public education is not tapping their potential. “You don’t need a meeting to know things are crumbling or that some teachers are not prepared.”
Dr. Cosby said he has long been convinced that hungry kids can’t learn and those in charge who cannot meet children’s needs should be fired. Adding, that the need to make significant change is now and will involve significant class size reduction. “Now, schools are not a place where Black kids can learn or feel safe.” He suggests that initially, most teachers wanted to save the world, but once in the classroom, they were no longer inventive or motivated to do so. Adding, teachers need active community support and criticized both mainstream and Black media for aggravating the problem of educating Black children.
Dr. Cosby described a graduation ceremony of twenty-seven incarcerated youthful offenders, as an example of the power of motivation and support. He reiterated that many of those in charge of educational institutions don’t care about children’s future and feels if there is no positive change, steps should be taken to remove them, including lawsuits.
Dr. Randy Ross, Director of Education Policy, LAUSD Board of Education: Dr. Ross walked participants through some illuminating statistical data on Percent Proficient or advanced (Proficiency plus), 2006-07 for Los Angeles County, Compton USD, Inglewood USD, Pasadena USD, Pomona USD and Rialto USD. Dr. Ross focused on two disturbing percentages, i.e., the significant drop in proficiency by African American students from second to third-grade, and the fact that Black students are virtually at the lowest, or near the lowest, proficiency level in practically all school districts. Black students start at the lowest levels and advanced the least.
LAUSD: In addition to proficiency data, Dr. Ross also presented LAUSD statistics on the California Standards Test, English-Language Arts and Mathematics Summary, Calif. High School Exit Exam Results, the Achievement Performance Index (API) for the ten lowest scoring high schools, and the number of LAUSD students enrolled in various programs, including Gifted and Special Education where Black students are disproportionately represented-less in Gifted Programs, overrepresented in Special Education Programs.
Superintendent David Brewer: He began by recalling his experience working for the Navy’s Equal Opportunity Office. This was his epiphany concerning the disproportionately high African American failure rate. Superintendent Brewer mentioned that non-economically disadvantaged African Americans routinely score less than economically disadvantaged whites. He asserts that young Black males don’t have sufficient positive role models and that educators need to dig deeper into the psychological and sociological issues affecting students.
According to Mr. Brewer, teachers are ill-equipped to deal with new problems such as the complexities of homelessness and foster homes. “We have to do things that are drastically different than we’re doing today.” He emphasizes that community backing is perhaps the most important factor in improving education outcomes for Black students. He says the environment is bad for all kids, but especially poor children. “Helping the oppressed is a serious, serious problem.” (Responding to a question from Dr. McKenna, Supt. Brewer said, “I’ve already identified appropriate staff to deal with the issue of African American students, but I am the point man.”)
Superintendent Edna Herring, Rialto USD reported there are 20 percent African American students in that district with severely limited resources. “It’s a cycle of failure.” She cites accelerated math and reading programs and class size reductions as recent innovations.
Inglewood USD Superintendent Pamela Powell shared that the district is focusing on African American males in new high school that requires, among other criteria, a certain GPA. She also cites a Performing Arts Magnet and “Open Court” as effective intervention programs.
Compton USD Superintendent Bob Nero applauded the principal working with African American males and described them as absolutely fantastic. He has reached out to City Hall and local businesses to support the focus on these students and local businesses have contributed substantially to this cause. He predicts, “You will hear about African American males in Compton,” obviously upbeat about the chances for the program’s success.
Dr. Cosby’s daughter, Erin, a teacher, gave a slide presentation of her photography of positive inner-city school environments and interactions throughout Los Angeles schools.
Dr. McKenna believes that the challenge is in following up. He cites the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) as committed to helping the Education as a Civil Right effort. He asked, “What are our next steps and our commitment?”
LAUSD School Board Member Marguerite LaMotte indicated different (good) things are happening but contacting the appropriate people is essential. She mentions a program for male students at Jordan High School-whose principal, Dr. Strachan was present-as an example of an important new innovation underway.
Carol Truscott (sp), Superintendent LAUSD, Local District 7, said staff is committed, but does not get adequate resources. A participant asked whether Ms Truscott has received additional help. She responded, “There have been no new staff and no new money.”
Supt. Brewer said he is “point man” and has ultimate responsibility for improving Black student achievement. He failed to mention however, the watering down of the only program ever to focus exclusively on Black students district wide, the African American Learner Initiative. It became, An Action Plan For a Culturally Relevant Education That Benefit African American Students and All Other Students; district-wide implementation is spotty.
The meeting did reaffirm participants’ desire to continue to work with The Education as a Civil Right Committee: Whether their respective districts share this commitment remains to be seen. The real test is follow-up-people continuing to work hard, standing up for quality education for Black children.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail