John Deasy, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), summarily proposed, and will likely receive school board approval to reconstruct or “transform” Crenshaw High, one of only three LAUSD high schools with a majority of Black students. Many parents and community members describe the superintendent’s decision as authoritarian and say he did not keep his word or even respect them enough to give advanced notice of his decision.
That Crenshaw is reportedly the district’s lowest academic achieving high school is not disputed and all parties agree that substantive, positive change must take place. However, contentious disagreement exists over what that change should look like. Those who spoke out at a recent parent meeting called by Crenshaw’s principal were clearly upset by the manner in which the superintendent “took over Crenshaw” and were skeptical about his proposed the new 3 Magnet School configuration for Crenshaw.
Efforts are underway challenging Superintendent Deasy’s proposed “transformation” of Crenshaw. However, in my view, none is as comprehensive or directly applicable to the needs of Crenshaw’s African American students as a twenty three years old proposal: The Black Leadership Coalition on Education Position Paper on Low Achievement of the African American Learner (1989). The position paper recommendations for corrective action on critical issues were never acted on by the school district. The position paper addressed LAUSD’s negligence which then, as now, inevitably results in their low achievement.
The following are excerpts from the Preamble and the Introduction of the Black Leadership Coalition on Education’s position paper. Hopefully, current Black leadership will embrace and, in a timely manner, collectively present recommendations to the board of education that incorporate the substance of the position paper. Carefully considered, the paper includes key components of a framework for improving educational results and also insists on minimally acceptable standards for corrective action on the critical issues affecting the low academic achievement levels of African American students.
Preamble: “The Black Leadership Coalition on Education (BLCE) came into being in 1977. More than a decade later, BLCE is still actively involved in pressing educational issues affecting African American students, parents, teachers and administrators. BLCE is co-sponsored by the local affiliates of the NAACP, SCLC and the Urban League.
In November 1988 and January 1989, BLCE made public comment before the LA Board of Education during hearings on “Improving Academic Performance of Low-Achieving Students.” These hearings were conceived, in large measure, because of the continuing failure to effectively educate African American students and the limited, favorable results derived from decades of litigation on their behalf….the very reason BLCE was born and continues to exist.
The future of the African American community is held hostage by the downward spiral of academic achievement of its students; therefore, we cannot abide unfair competition or insensitivity to our plight. Leaders who care about the educational fate of the African American learner must intervene with a plan of action to help rescue African American students from the quagmire of low achievement.
Introduction: Efforts to arrest low achievement in a generic sense have failed. Any educational approach which ignores cultural and linguistic diversity, in general, is fostering “miseducation.” Regrettably, the education establishment in the United States has never seriously entertained the notion that African American students have unique linguistic and cultural histories; their experiences must be understood in order for them to attain educational success in any significant numbers.
In short, the causes of low achievement are complex and involve the interaction of unique socioeconomic and cultural factors, gender, language, values and norms. Any attempt to systematically raise test scores and move toward educational equity which does not take account these factors is doomed to failure. We witness this continued failure, not only on the part of students, but by an education bureaucracy which imposes mismatched methods and content on otherwise eager African American learners. Interestingly, upon close scrutiny, we can see that over the years, a closed system of accountability among those responsible for public education has resulted in “miseducation” and protracted failure among African American students, in particular.
Individual African Americans who have been academically successful are often used to justify current methods which tend to blame underachieving parents and students for their lack of educational attainment. (Curiously, we see no sustained attempt to analyze why some African American students are successful and to use the data generated from such an analysis to inform discussions and stimulate actions for change.) The view indicting parents and students is fallacious, at best, and sinister, at worst. Further, it is precisely what has, and what will continue to impede, if not actually prevent, real change.
This position paper addresses the following: 1) curriculum. (The curriculum should be both culturally relevant and educationally purposeful); 2) instruction; 3) staffing; 4) discipline; and 5) parent and community support. These are the major areas which, when collectively approached, would allow African American students to begin to reach their true academic potential.”
Copies of the Black Leadership Coalition on Education’s Position Paper on Low Achievement of the African American Learner will be distributed to Black Leaders, especially those in education and politics, and to parents and the community as well.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.