LAUSD, feds reach rights accordFocus on English learners and Black students
Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to vast improvements in the way it teaches English learners and African American students after a 19-month investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found students were being denied equal educational opportunities.
Even after years in the district, many English learners were languishing in ESL classes, never becoming fluent in English and therefore being shut out of the core academic classes they needed to graduate and enroll in college or job-training programs. Nearly 30 percent of the district’s 678,000 students are classified as English learners.
“In education, too few public school students who are not native English speakers learn English well enough, or fast enough, to prepare them for other core academic coursework, or for life after the school age years,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a written statement.
Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali announced the voluntary agreement before the Los Angeles School Board Tuesday, calling it the first successful settlement of a civil rights enforcement action taken under the Obama administration.
Ali’s office launched the investigation in March 2010 as a compliance review to examine what was happening in the district, not in response to any complaints. It was expanded to include a look at resources and academic opportunities for African American students following complaints by local civil rights organizations and, reportedly, some Los Angeles area members of Congress.
Ali called the resolution “a model for the country” during a telephone call with reporters, and said it “will have an impact that exceeds the borders of Los Angeles and indeed California as a whole.”
Under the settlement, the district pledged to rewrite its Master Plan for English Learners describing how it will improve English language instruction and prepare English learners to take the academic subjects they need to be on track to graduate from high school ready for college.
The plan will also include coaching and professional development to improve the quality of teachers who work with English learners and African American students.
Resources for African American students
In a separate set of actions, the district agreed to implement eight plans targeted at providing equal academic resources for African American students.
- Gifted and talented program: Develop a district-wide plan to address the disproportionate participation of black and Hispanic students in GATE.
- Technology resources: Increase the student/computer ratio in each school and provide more technology-based instruction.
- Library resources: Increase library collections and make sure all schools have an electronic database of library resources.
- Community school pilot project: Develop a community school in the area serving Annalee and Leapwood Elementary Schools that includes health and social services, encourage community participation in improving student achievement, and build a sustainable and replicable model to close the achievement gap for African American students.
- College preparedness and career readiness: Develop a program to provide college and career readiness by providing support and information to help African American students prepare for college academics.
- Academic language proficiency: Included in the English Learners Master Plan, the district will address the language proficiency needs of African American students beginning in elementary school.
- Equal access to effective teachers: Be accountable for learning and support by providing professional development and monitoring instruction. Also, develop a plan to increase attendance for students and staff to a minimum of 96 percent.
- Discipline: Analyze disciplinary policies, practices, and data and use that information to modify policies, where statistics show disproportionate discipline against African American students.
Ali praised the school district for cooperating with the investigation and the remedies. LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said that improving graduation rates and academic performance of English learners and African American students is the district’s greatest challenge.
But some civil rights advocates say the plan seems vague. “I can’t tell whether it’s simply that the district is going to develop a program regarding English learner students’ college preparedness,” said a former administration official. “It doesn’t say that they’re actually going to meet any goal or how they’re going to get there.”
They hit all the right areas, agreed John Affeldt, a civil rights attorney with Public Advocates who specializes in educational equity issues. “It’s pretty sweeping in scope what they’re promising to do, but it’s pretty short on benchmarks and enforcement details.”
There’s no immediate deadline for putting all the pieces in place. The Office for Civil Rights will monitor the agreement and won’t sign off until LAUSD is in full compliance with civil rights laws. In the meantime, said Ali, OCR officials may pop in to check the district’s progress.
- Reader’s Comments: :: Gaia Gallery
- Civil rights groups sue state for violating rights of English learners