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LAUSD School Choice No Choice for Black Parents
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will build 50 new schools in the next three years and provide targeted support for 260 underachieving schools. The Public School Choice Resolution envisions every student receiving "a quality education in a safe, caring environment and every graduate being college-prepared and career-ready." Unfortunately, this major reform initiative was planned and is being implemented virtually without the participation of Black parents even though its purpose is to ensure a quality education for all students.
Black parents whose children attend mostly underperforming schools were not informed of school board member Yolie Aguilar Flores' resolution until it was virtually a done deal; the plan was already a scheduled board agenda item and apparently, the majority of votes needed for passage were already secured. Board members Marguerite LaMotte and Steven Zimmer, supporting the unions position, were the only dissenters to the motion.
The Black Education Task Force (BETF) submitted recommendations six weeks before the resolution passed. Its letter said, "...The Resolution fails to specifically address the needs of African American children for academic achievement," and, "there was insufficient outreach to the broader African American community to foster dialogue and develop stakeholder support." These are precisely the issues of greatest concern for Black parents and precisely the areas not specifically addressed in the Public School Choice planning and implementation process, that is supposed to take decision-making out of the hands of bureaucrats and special interests and put it in the hands of parents and non-district school operators.
Flores-Aguilar, who drafted the plan, said, "It could leave LAUSD well-positioned for President Obama's "Race to the Top," federal education dollars for schools that innovate. She also said, "This is about who can deliver the best program; if we (LAUSD) are not prepared or committed to deliver and someone else is (non-profits), we should be able to offer that to our parents."
Flores-Aguilar's high-sounding rhetoric, notwithstanding, many consider her track record in high poverty Black and Latino areas of Southeast Los Angeles County, abominable. They cite her, and the school board's, failure to properly involve those parents and students in the School Choice planning process.
LAUSD's goal is to ensure that all schools offer high-quality educational options to students based on these core principles: student achievement; quality school choice; accountability; safe and clean facilities; applying promising practices and lessons learned; mutual responsibility and cooperation; and equity and access. Failure to effectively involve parents in the development of the Public School Choice plan undermines a basic School Choice intent: To create new, innovative partnerships at the local school level in which parents are the core.
The criteria for applying to operate new and existing schools are an even more glaring example of built-in parent exclusion. Applicants were required to be non-profit public organizations that could prove they have the financial capacity and skills to run a successful school. It is hard to imagine the average parent in the inner being a real player given such stringent criteria.
The review criteria include: Only school teams and providers that have demonstrated the ability to meet the needs of all of their students will be selected; all plans must guarantee that schools will enroll the (required) number of students from impacted campuses that the new school is intended to relieve; students from designated overcrowded schools will be served first and foremost; personalized student learning environment-student achievement plans prioritizing academically-challenged English language learners, standard English learners (Black students), poor and special-needs students; shared decision-making and inclusive government in which parents and educators have a prominent role; student discipline policy; and diplomas for all students and drop-out prevention.
Convened by Marguerite LaMotte, an array of Black groups, organizations and individuals, including the Black Education Task Force, teachers and administrators, submitted recommendations to Superintendent Ramon Cortines focusing on the specific needs of Black students. Cortines felt some "suggestions" had considerable merit and included those in a memo to LAUSD staff and community.
The three guiding principles for implementing the Public School Choice Resolution are: Educational Quality-"students and family are demanding high-quality schools;" Parents and Community Engagement-"(they) need more information and time to engage the process of improving our schools"; Urgency-"We need to act now to help all of our students to succeed."
Ironically, the district violated each of these principles by not reaching out to Black parents in particular, thereby continuing their exclusion from the decision-making process. There is no way the average parent could have played a meaningful role in Public Choice planning without getting hands-on assistance, a vital part of the empowering process.
Unfortunately, LAUSD is perpetuating the very problems Public Schools Choice is designed to correct: It is discouraging, rather than facilitating, parent and community collaboration crucial for increasing the quality of their children's education.