Two weeks ago in this column, I urged Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to focus specifically on Black students in his education reforms for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). His plan addresses specific needs of English language learners; it is imperative that Black students also receive proper attention and resources. As of this writing, the mayor has not responded.
To ensure quality education for Black students, adults from every income level must be actively involved and accountable. They are the vanguard, without whom students’ rights will never be secure. The task is enormous and uncompromising advocacy is its mantra. This is a seminal undertaking and will require a level of risk-taking and commitment that has not been seen for some time.
The challenge of dealing with the special needs of Black students went to the mayor; this week the challenge is directed to leadership in the various Black communities within LAUSD. Only these leaders can legitimately and effectively carry the fight to ensure quality education for Black children.
Paradigm shifts are necessary to deal with a highly complex problem that involves changing policy and practices in a recalcitrant monstrosity more likely to warehouse than educate Black students. Few seem aware of the crucial nexus between the role of Black leadership and the inequities suffered by Black students in LAUSD.
Assembly Bill 1381, Mayor Villaraigosa’s failed legislation to “take over” the schools is revisited here, with a view towards better serving Black students by having some understanding of legislative and political processes.
Blacks had virtually nothing to do with AB1381. The Mayor’s outreach to Blacks was superficial with little focus on parents and other stakeholders. Sadly, Black leadership, including elected officials, mostly remained silent on the fast tracked bill as it sped incognito through the legislature. (The courts eventually killed AB1381, but Villaraigosa bankrolled certain school board candidates and the new board majority firmly supports his agenda.)
What role, if any, would Blacks have played in AB 1381’s implementation? This is an important question because Black students, already the most maligned, are in danger of falling even further behind in LAUSD. Leaders and rank and file must unite and demand that the needs of these children become more than a rhetorical priority.
The bill included the mayor’s Community Partnership for School Excellence. A key provision required that the mayor “in partnership with LAUSD, parent and community leaders and organizations and school personnel and employee organizations-shall, as part of a demonstration project, have oversight over three clusters of the lowest-performing schools in different geographical areas in LAUSD.” Who would have represented the interests of Black students in this partnership? LAUSD prevailed in court, but the mayor’s Community Partnership has been approved by the new board majority and remains a key component of the low-performing clusters.
Although vague, AB1381 was hustled through the legislature, e.g., one of six expectations of the Demonstration Project was “that the school/community is held accountable for the achievement of the project’s goals.” This sounds fine, but the bill defines neither “school community” nor the process for choosing the “partners.”
Would implementation have been open or mired in traditional political compromise? A community partnership anchored in trust would help counter prevailing individualistic decision-making and maybe even dent the primacy of “politics as usual.”
Apparently, Mayor Villaraigosa summoned the usual suspects to advise him on the education reform legislation. He could have sought out non-traditional Black groups and leaders, but did not do so. This would have enhanced his role in ensuring quality education for all children. In fairness, the mayor’s failure to reach the community on AB1381 was compounded by Black leaders’ not presenting a cogent, united position on the legislation.
Black leadership must start putting students first and take the initiative by crafting alternative strategies designed not only to increase achievement scores, but improve the overall quality of students’ education. This requires sustained pressure on politicians and school district decision-makers alike.
It is axiomatic that no other group will, or should, take responsibility for the future of Black students. However, the internal collaboration and commitment needed to effectuate major changes in education policies and practices are often lacking in Black leaders. They must be pressured into behaving differently because continuing on the present course guarantees disaster, not only for the children, but broader Black communities, as well.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail