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Plans to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) abound, but none include specific focus on Black students, the district’s lowest achievers and lowest priority.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa completed a partial victory last week when voting parents and teachers in seven schools approved his “Partnership for Los Angeles Schools” framework. The Partnership, a non-profit, is built on six “pillars of school excellence:” high expectations; safe, small and clean; empowered leadership; powerful teaching and rigorous curriculum; family and community involvement; and more money to schools. Specifics of the framework are not available.
Despite eleven iterations, Superintendent David L. Brewer’s reforms are not yet public, but were scheduled for a vote earlier this week. Reportedly, his plan overlaps with both Villaraigosa’s and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). Like the others, Brewer’s plan seeks, among other initiatives, improved student achievement through better trained teachers, smaller learning environments and strong parent and community participation.
Brewer may be in trouble, reportedly operating without the confidence of the full board. (Recently, the board voted to retain teacher staffing at schools with declining enrollments, despite Brewer’s admonition that this could cause serious financial problems.) Further, the district has hired a public relations firm to enhance its image, as well as a communications consultant for one year, salary $178,000, to develop communications strategies. It also hired a person who is receiving $90,000 for six-months to deal exclusively with communications related to the ensnarled payroll system.
UTLA submitted its own plan, some of which resembles the Partnership Brewer plans. It stresses the need for greater teacher autonomy in curriculum development and grassroots empowerment.
None these plans addresses the specific needs of Black students.
A Los Angeles Sentinel column dated October 19, 2007 titled, “Mayor Villaraigosa: What About Black Students?,” cited the school district’s historical indifference to the needs of Black students and referenced policy initiatives related to Black students. Only one focused exclusively on Black students, but it quickly morphed into “An Action Plan for a Culturally Relevant Education that Benefits Black Students and All Other Students.” (The mayor was asked to respond to the article, as well as a letter from the Community Call to Action and Accountability (CCAA) requesting that the Partnership includes a focus on Black students, no matter their numbers in any particular school. To date, no response has been received from the Mayor.)
Advocates for Black Strategic Alternatives also recently wrote to the Board of Education urging that LAUSD focus specifically on the needs of Black students in its policies, programs and practices.
As with other groups, Blacks have mixed feelings about the mayor’s Partnership; some are ambivalent, some supportive and others opposed. The light turnout of parents in last week’s “referendum” on the Partnership is an indication of spotty support in certain Black neighborhoods, perhaps also reflecting mixed feelings toward him by Black leadership.
Meanwhile, Admiral Brewer seems to be treading water and has yet to present a definitive plan to reform LAUSD. As mentioned earlier, he was recently rebuffed by the board’s voting to retain teachers at schools with declining enrollment.
Enrollment at mayor Villaraigosa’s three Partnership high schools reflects challenges and added complexities in educating Black students in light of huge increase in the Latino student population. Roosevelt High has no Blacks; Jordan High is the only one with a substantial number of Blacks (21.2 percent); Santee Education Complex has 7.2 percent.
These statistics are all the more reason for a specific focus on the needs of Black students since without such attention and additional resources, their chances of a quality education is significantly diminished.
Notwithstanding institutional barriers that deny Black students a quality education, parent and community unwillingness and/or inability to challenge inequities in their schools is equally reprehensible. Legitimate claims of racist and disparate treatment of Blacks ring hollow if those most directly affected, i.e., parents and surrounding communities, fail carry their weight in the fight for quality education for their children.
The education establishment, like all other bureaucracies, perpetuates itself; they do not change on their own initiative. Failure of primary stakeholders and Black elected and appointed officials to meet their responsibility to ensure that all children receive a quality education , continues to hamper achieving that goal.
When will sufficient numbers of parents and community residents begin to take the responsibility and risks necessary to bring about sorely needed change in LAUSD? Complacency suffices only for those not harmed by systemic inequities. Black parents and concerned others must insist, without equivocation or apology, that LAUSD provide nothing less than a quality education for their children.
This gargantuan, critically important task is theirs alone. Holding LAUSD accountable requires unaccustomed levels of accountability. Stakeholders can begin by demanding that the Partnership and LAUSD focus specifically on the needs of Black students as an essential step towards ensuring their children receive a quality education.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail