LAUSD, feds reach rights accord

Focus 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.

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  1. As a longtime parent advocate and leader in LAUSD – and someone who has knowledge of and has provided examples of the kinds of discrimination in the past to the District – constituents here have heard promises such as these from LAUSD many times before. To the new and LAUSD-uninitiated, we are highly challenged in implementing policy and in accurately monitoring and evaluating progress (outcomes). The District has highlighted its shortcomings around the English Learner population several times before (including a 2007 National Summit following several Board of Ed resolutions promising a re-framing of the model of educational delivery for English Learners). Following the Summit, the District was to launch a website with videos and supporting documentation and research from the summit. All I can find on the District website is a 2007 press release announcing all of this.

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  2. >>>>> Library resources: Increase library collections and make sure all schools have an electronic database of library resources.
    Are they kidding? How about hiring some credentialed librarians? The vast majority of LAUSD schools are unstaffed. The librarians who do work in LAUSD were recently put on trial for their jobs. No, just put some unopened boxes of books over there — and let the kids have at it. Subscribe to databases in a district where parents are too poor to have home computers. What planet are these people on? The federales just made a deal with the liars. Don’t hold your breath.
    Yes — I do intend this tone. I have waited 30 years for school libraries and all of this is a lie.

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  3. Paragraph 5 gives absolute insight to the LAUSD’s and federal disregard of African American students, for whom the achievement gap is widest. Complaints HAVE been filed with respect to disregarding the right to quality education for the African American student, however, this is not what prompted federal investigation. Rather, the lightening rod was Master Plan compliance review revelations.

    That speaks VOLUMES (if accurate). For too many years, the English language has been decimated. Poor language skills have been accepted and allowed to permeate classrooms because it was politically incorrect to correct students’ language. The California standards say a 6th grader should be writing approximately 500 – 700 word multiple paragraph essays. As English language learners invaded LAUSD classrooms, but were made to take no responsibility for the necessary EXTRA time, energy, and effort it takes to learn another language, we all became subject to below standard, sub par language expectations and demands. (But you can be assured that others are not going to permit their language to be denegrated, butchered, and almost irreparably damaged (apart from reasonable aspects of the notion that language is alive and growing and changing) If anyone believes that the 6 hour school day meets all needs, you are delusional.

    A generation has been lost to irresponsibility, political liberalism to the point of detriment, and a disregard for foundational skills at the elementary level that allow for progressively strong content development! The Ed.Ds, Ph.Ds, and huber paid consultants made a killing putting the cart before the horse. Just like Dr. Spock on his death bed apologized for misleading generations in the rearing of their children with his blanket statements, so should policymaking educators who orchestrated and allowed all of this to happen. (And African American students didn’t even get the opportunity to develop second language (nor first language) skills in the process)

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