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EDUCATION REFORM DOESN'T TARGET BLACK STUDENTS
The "Parent Trigger" is the latest education reform to gain public attention. (If 51% of a school's parents sign a petition expressing their dissatisfaction, a new California law gives them the option of choosing new management, staffing or becoming a charter school.) However, as the recent contentious first use of the "trigger" in Compton USD demonstrated, the petition process must be perceived as fair and transparent. If it is not, parents will not be further empowered, but further disenfranchised.
President Barack Obama's first major speeches included education and called for linking teachers' pay to student performance--United Teachers Los Angeles vehemently opposes this initiative-and expanding charter schools. Teachers unions generally, are against both, but some resonated with Obama's position. For instance, from the head of the American Federation of Teachers, "We finally have an education President."
Obama also proclaimed, "The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens...despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us."
Parents certainly have every reason and, arguably, also an obligation to see that their children receive the best possible education. But those in poor areas are typically less knowledgeable, less sophisticated and reluctant to hold schools accountable. Otherwise, charter schools and other reform efforts would be far less necessary.
As students leave districts for charters, so do experienced, effective teachers. Their departure increases the difficulty of improving regular schools. Without proper precautions and oversight, charters could contribute to miseducation, a dysfunctional norm for the vast majority of students in public schools. Parents exercising their right to send their elsewhere seeking a better education does not absolve school districts of their responsibility to provide a quality education for all students, especially the lowest achievers.
There have long been successful models for improving educational outcomes for Black students. But they were pilots or experimental, with no commitment for sustainable implementation. The archives of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) contain any number of such programs, purportedly designed for Black students; those programs and Black students were treated as dispensable commodities. In fact, both were, and are, invaluable assets with unlimited, unacknowledged potential.
LAUSD has had only one policy that focused exclusively on Black students: The African American Learners Initiative (2001) morphed, out of public view, into a related, but substantively different "Action Plan for a Culturally Relevant Education That Benefits African American Students and All Other Students." The latter does not afford the intense focus essential to remedy the institutional harm inflicted on Black students.
That Black children remain the lowest achievers is reason enough to focus on their unique needs. But under the No Child Left mandate, for example, Black students, the lowest achievers, along with English language learns and special education students, could be, but are not, provided special intervention and additional academic assistance. Black parents, leaders and concerned others should relentlessly push for such assistance from school boards, elected representatives and state and federal officials.
LAUSD's Crenshaw and Westchester High Schools each has a substantial Black student population-a rarity in Los Angeles. Crenshaw is also a part of the Los Angeles Urban League's "Neighborhoods Work" initiative, a 70-block, multi-dimensional project funded by large corporations. Hopefully, reported substantial academic gains will continue and expand. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Partnership too reports academic improvement, cleaner campuses and discernibly improved student conduct.
Other encouraging efforts include formation of Education is a Civil Right, an initiative launched by Dr. George McKenna, currently superintendent of LAUSD's local District 7; the Black Education Task Force, formed after Superintendent David Brewer's departure; and the Coalition for Black Student Equity, whose demands from a series of community town hall meetings were recently presented to the Los Angeles Board of Education.
Strategies to reverse the miseducation, indeed, the crisis in educating Black students, must reflect the array and interrelatedness of the complex factors that shape their lives. The current call for accountability is meaningless without concrete commitment and results. Real change benefiting these students will take new thinking, agitation, and clear demands-based on group, not individual-oriented values and strategic action.
"We can, whenever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether we do it finally depends on how we feel about the fact that we haven't done it so far." Dr. Ron Edmonds
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail