Monday, April 21, 2014
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Office for Civil Rights Ignores Black Students  

Black students, Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) lowest achieving group, are not included in the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) compliance review that focuses exclusively on the district's English Language Learners (ELL). The problem is Black students, just as much a priority, are unfairly left out of OCR's review. This is not acceptable.

Low achievement/low performing schools is the primary reason for OCR's compliance reviews- 38 are planned for school districts nationwide, the overwhelming majority focusing on Black students. Why then aren't Black students included in the LAUSD review since they remain its lowest achievers? Focusing on English learners only shifts the national focus. Could it be because LAUSD's Latino students are approaching 80% and ELL are a third of the total student population? Whatever the reason, Black students are being overlooked again; they, together with English learners, should be the focus of OCR's compliance review in Los Angeles.

Apparently, the Department of Education decision targeting ELL only was more political than educational; it is also inconsistent with the stated purpose of the OCR compliance reviews. OCR's Assistant Secretary of Education said in Los Angeles that Blacks must file a complaint in order to be included in the compliance review. This is an insult and smacks of a double standard. LAUSD's English learners did not file a complaint and neither should Blacks be required to do so.

Focusing on English learners exclusively in LAUSD also appears inconsistent with the Administration's national education policy on low-performing schools. "A Blueprint for Reform" describes the Department of Education's mission thusly: "To promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.... There) will be significant grants to help states, districts and schools implement the rigorous intervention required in each state's lowest-performing challenge schools..."

A section of the Blueprint for Reform, "College-Career-Ready Students, A Goal for America's Educational System" is deemed a new approach, "........supporting new standards and preparing college- and career-ready students, rewarding (student) progress and success and turning around low-performing schools. The Blueprint builds on significant progress already made in certain areas, one of which is "improving student learning and achievement in America's lowest-performing schools by providing support and effective interventions."

OCR's targeting ELL only makes a mockery of the Dept. of Education's strong case for focusing on lowest achieving schools/students. As suggested earlier, the decision was very likely, largely political. Black students are just as important and deserving of special attention as English Language learners and minimizing or overlooking their needs is reprehensible, be it by school districts or the U. S. Department of Education.

An open letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan from local civil rights and education advocacy representatives argues strongly that Black students must be part of LAUSD's compliance review. The letter notes Duncan's references to continuing inequities faced by Blacks, in general, and Black students in particular as well as his acknowledging that schools throughout the nation continue to fail Black students. The Department's policy clearly focuses on low achieving students which ensures that LAUSD's Black students, their dwindling numbers, notwithstanding, receive the same attention as LAUSD's English Language learners; both require special consideration. (Although rarely mentioned, Black students too have language needs that are seldom sufficiently addressed. Apparently, this also was not considered in Duncan's decision to focus only on LAUSD's English language learners.)

A suggestion that a complaint must be filed in order to include Black students in the compliance review was summarily rejected by the signatories to the letter. No complaint was needed to target English learners and the same should apply to Black students. The letter (dated 03/25/10) requested a meeting and/or timely response from Duncan "....indicating OCR's commitment to include Black students in the compliance review of LAUSD."

 An encouraging note: A sizable number of individuals, community-based organizations and Black leaders-including elected officials-have signed on in support of Black students being included in OCR's LAUSD compliance review. Obviously, broad-based community support strengthens the demand to correct the problem.

Excluding Black students from OCR's compliance review of LAUSD is totally unacceptable. OCR can rectify this by simply adding Black students to its review.

We cannot afford to be on the sidelines on issues such as this that affect the lives of Black children, their future, and ours. I urge individuals, groups and organizations to contact me to be added to the list of those who support including Black students in OCR's compliance review.

Category: Urban Perspective


 

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