Public schools fail to educate Black students. However, a prolonged silence of parents, educators and others helps to perpetuate such failure. Abject negligence by urban school districts like the Los Angeles School District (LAUSD) virtually guarantees that Black students' needs are not met.
The African American Learner Initiative (AALI) was a notable exception-it focused exclusively on LAUSD's Black students. But out of the public's eye the AALI morphed into a circuitous "Action Plan for A Culturally Relevant Education That Benefits Black Students and All Other Students." Even this pale substitute for the AALI is not a mandate; implementation rests chiefly with each principal.
The metamorphosis from AALI to "culturally relevant education" is another instance of LAUSD's refusal to deal with the specific needs of Black students. Every program ostensibly intended to address Black students' needs has been ad hoc, inadequately funded and not sustainable.
Black leadership within and outside of LAUSD is all important, but it too has mostly silent on schools failing to educate Black students. Neither school board members nor Black elected officials have demanded that these students receive a quality education. Even Marguerite LaMotte, the school board member who represents a substantial portion of LAUSD's dwindling Black student population, has not provided consistent, effective leadership on behalf of Black students. Nor has Superintendent David Brewer who has been on the job for two years. He still seems not to have a handle on how to manage the complexities of the monstrous LAUSD. And Brewer's responsibilities have been cut in half; Dr. Ramon Cortines now heads school operations, which in some ways reduces Brewer to a figurehead. In addition, his term lacks concerted emphasis on the district's lowest achievers-Black students.
Marguerite LaMotte provides spotty leadership on behalf of Black students. For example, she did not attend a meeting in South Central on "The Crisis in Educating Black Students in LAUSD." Her staff said she could not attend because of a school board meeting that night. However, school board president Monica Garcia showed up, rendering Ms. LaMotte's absence all the more puzzling.
LAUSD's large number of charter schools is another indicator of its lack of concern for its lowest achievers. The proliferation of charter schools aggravates problems for the schools left behind. There is no comprehensive policy for improving "regular" schools, many, if not most , pose the greatest challenge but have fewest resources. Pressing issues in these schools range from unsafe facilities and recruiting effective teachers, to inequitable funding. Yet they continue to be shunted.
Whatever benefits accrue to charter schools, be it teaching methods or innovative curricula, they are not shared with the non-magnets where most Black students attend. Even if charter schools are more successful in improving academic achievement, non-charters don't benefit and may actually get worse because effective teachers and concerned parents are siphoned off. This does nothing to lift the boats of non-charters.
The Los Angeles Urban League's Neighborhoods Work Initiative is an ambitious, well-funded effort to improve conditions in South Central includes Crenshaw High School. A slew of innovators and innovations, including the Bradley Foundation, the Urban League itself, and the University of Southern California (USC), are collaboratively attempting to improve the quality of education for Crenshaw's students. Arguably, their efforts would be greatly enhanced, even validated, if there was a mandate requiring focusing on the specific needs of Black students, rather than the watered down, politically correct, "Black and all other students'" dodge.
(Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa supports such a focus; whether his Partnership requires it remains to be seen. Recently, the Community Call to Action and Accountability (CCAA), a South Central community-based group, recommended that the Partnership appoint a Black student coordinator to monitor their progress, whose responsibilities would be similar to those of the English Language coordinator.)
LAUSD has always neglected Back students-as do urban school districts throughout America. Transforming negligence into strategies and programs that improve Black students' performance means developing and actually employing new, substantively different paradigms that take into account these student's unique needs.
Lifting up Black students to their true potential necessitates having high expectations for them and removing artificial barriers to their success. They are endowed with excellence but their success requires that parents and educators especially, summon new courage, take unaccustomed risks, and having broken their silence, participate in the salvation of generations to come.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org