Agitation is the Real Key to Education Reform
Â “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.” – Frederick Douglass
Last week the Western Regional Council on Educating Black Children (WRCEBC) held its 14th Annual Leadership Summit in Los Angeles. Formed by Congressman Augustus F. Hawkins in 1986, the National Council on Educating Black Children’s mission is, “To improve the achievement of African American students by disseminating and promoting the Blueprint for Action, sharing successful educational programs and monitoring their progress.” Its vision statement envisions a time when all children will have equal opportunities that emanate from quality education and strong family values.
The WRCEBC Summit included parents, students, teachers, administrators and policymakers from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Compton USD and other surrounding districts. Over 40 workshops during the three-day summit covered topics ranging from parent empowerment and leadership to cultural competency and “The Amazing Power of Youth.”
Â The first national conference produced a framework for change, a “Blueprint for Action,” predicated on “effective schools” research, pioneered by the late Dr. Ron Edmonds and the concept that all children can learn. The plan is designed so that public school districts and communities can recommend to their stakeholders a collaborative means of solving problems and accelerating achievement for Black children, in particular.
The rub is that very few, if any, school districts have actually adopted, and/or fully implemented the Blueprint; it has languished on LAUSD’s shelf since 1987. Last year, after speaking at the WRCEBC Conference, Superintendent Ramon Cortines distributed the Blueprint to all LAUSD local district superintendents-a toothless acknowledgment of its value.
Token acceptance of efforts to improve the quality of education of Black students is the norm. In LAUSD, they have included the “Triad,” (95th Street Elementary, Bret Harte Jr. and Washington Preparatory H.S) and the Ten Schools Project that initially focused on Black students. Such programs were pilots or “experimental”, even though most Black children remained at the bottom of the well. Perhaps the most egregious example of duplicity was LAUSD’s adoption of African American Learners Initiative that addressed Black students’ needs exclusively. Out of the public’s eye, however, it morphed into the Academic English Mastery Program (AEMP) for “…Black students…and all other students.” (Legal restrictions, notwithstanding, there are ways to focus on the specific needs of Black students; what’s lacking is the political will to do so.)
LAUSD’s Public School Choice Resolution is a case in point. Targeting low-performing schools and ostensibly designed to increase parent decision-making, the selection process for non-district operators devolved into politically charged chaos. Superintendent Cortines: “There are reports of aggressive advocacy by individuals and organizations which have, in turn, led to marked intimidation and abuses of the democratic process……..It should not be perceived as “us against them.” I am particularly offended by reports that a few district employees are spreading malicious falsehoods and bashing applicants who want to help our students.” (Letter to employees, January 28, 2010.) Note: No Black applicant was chosen to operate a school under the School Choice Plan.
Disenfranchisement of Black students goes on, and contrary to claims by advocates, charter schools are no panacea. While they have a mixed record of success, they do play an important role in education reform. But charters will never include all schools or those most in need of reform. Also, school districts have not mandated that charters’ positive results be routinely applied to “regular schools,” which could be of considerable benefit.
Demographic shifts include huge increases in the number of Latino students, particularly in large urban school districts. This has serious implications concerning how such changes affect Black students whose dwindling numbers call for added vigilance. They are likely to be even more neglected now because they constitute such a small percentage in overwhelming majority Latino schools and classrooms. Without vigilance and planning that addresses their specific needs, Black students will be further disadvantaged by this demographic reality.
An inescapable conclusion is that the education establishment will not reform itself; it will not divest itself of power. The Blueprint for Action and other programs to benefit Black students are not sustainable because they lack political clout and parents and concerned others as part of the vanguard agitating for education reform.
Our task is to transform Frederick Douglass’ and Congressman Augustus Hawkins’ rhetorical admonitions into sustained action that ensures all Black students receive a quality education.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.