The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) fails to properly educate Black students. They are the school district’s lowest achievers, but have never received respect, attention or resources commensurate with their needs.
Throughout the years, programs such as “The Triad,” (95th Street School, Bret Harte Jr. High and Washington Prep), and the Ten Schools Project in South Central Los Angeles were approved but not sustained. These, and similar efforts showed positive results but were not sustained.
In 2001, the Los Angeles Board of Education, for the first and only time in its history, approved a policy, The African American Learners Initiative that pertained exclusively to Black students. However, it quickly, without public discussion or disclosure, morphed into, An Action Plan for a Culturally Relevant Education that Benefits Black Students and All Other Students. Subsequently, the district launched the Academic Mastery of English Program (AMEP), which still exists but still struggles for true policy status and funding necessary to meet its stated objectives.
Legal constraints regarding racial preference, notwithstanding, the L.A. school board has failed to invoke the political will necessary to ensure that Black students, who languish at the bottom of the achievement ladder, are properly educated. Arguably, their continuous neglect borders on being criminally liable.
Last year the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it would conduct a Compliance Review that focused exclusively on the LAUSD’s English language learners. Angered that the investigation did not include Black students, several Black organizations successfully pressured OCR to expand the Review to include Black students. They then formed the Coalition for Black Student Equity (CSBE), that initially consisted of the Black Education Task force, L.A. NAACP, L.A. Urban League, and the National Action Network. CBSE held three community town hall meetings on “The Crisis in Educating Black Students in LAUSD.” The top demands from the town halls were presented to the school board last November. The school board took no action on the community’s demands.
Of significant note, however, is that at that Board meeting, then superintendent Ramon Cortines, although a self-proclaimed advocate for improving the quality of education for Black students, said the African American Learners Initiative was no longer relevant. Cortines’ dismissal of the Initiative contradicted his earlier public position that Black students needs require specific focus.
Nonetheless as a result of CBSE’s presentation, Cortines formed the African American Task Force to among other things, use current best practices to improve the achievement of Black students. The Task Force was instructed to report its findings prior to Cortines’ resignation last month. However, the Task Force has not completed its work and, presumably, will present its findings to Dr. John Deasy, the new superintendent, and/or the board of education.
Thus far, LAUSD’s reform efforts are not easily discernable. The proliferation of charter schools, for example, reflects parents’ desire to provide their children the best possible education. Some charters are successful, some are not; there hasn’t been sufficient time to assess their effectiveness. What is apparent, however, is that increasingly, the district is tacitly acknowledging that it has not been able to provide a quality education for all students. It is abundantly clear though, its initiatives have largely bypassed Black students. The various reforms, including Public School Choice, with few exceptions, have had minimal positive effect on Black students, who remain an asterisk on the periphery, never at the center of reforms despite being the ones most in need.
CBSE recently expanded to include the Black Parent Union and Be the Change In Urban Education, a group that has hands-on experience in successfully operating schools with a substantial Black student population; it replicates models of success. This collaboration represents precisely the group-oriented unity and expertise critically needed, not only in education, but in the political and economic arenas, as well.
CBSE’s chief goal is reversing the low achievement of African American students. Accordingly, it is convening a 4th Community Town Hall Meeting on Saturday, May 14th, 9:00 A.M. at Southside Bethel Baptist Church, 10400 San Pedro Street, Los Angeles,
The Town Hall will be solutions-oriented and include presentations on instructional models and best practices that have proven successful with Black students. LAUSD’s new superintendent, Dr. John Deasy, will present his plans to address the specific needs of African American students.
CBSE’s collaborative effort focusing on improving the quality of education of Black students by the combined efforts of parents, civil rights and education leadership represents a strategic change in direction that has the potential for developing sustainable solutions.
Education is being referred to as the “civil rights issue of the 21st century.” I encourage readers of this column to take a small, but important step toward validating this lofty prediction by spreading the word, and if possible, attending the May 14th Town Hall. The emphasis will be on concrete solutions to the critically important issue of providing all children, Black children especially, an education that develops their full potential.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.