Federal

Los Angeles District, Ed. Dept., Resolve Civil Rights Probe

By Katie Ash — October 18, 2011 3 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Russlyn Ali, right, assistant secretary for civil rights, were on hand at a meeting of the Los Angeles Unified School District's board. The federal Education Department has resolved a civil rights investigation involving services provided to English-language learners and African-American students.

English-language learners will be promised adequate school system support, and black students will receive more resources, under an agreement announced last week by Los Angeles school officials and the U.S. Department of Education.

The department’s office for civil rights began an investigation in March 2010 into the services the Los Angeles Unified School District provided to ELLs and, after prompting from civil rights groups such as the Los Angeles NAACP, later expanded it to include resource comparability for African-American students.

“We didn’t understand how you could separate the issues involving African-American students,” said Leon Jenkins, the president of the local NAACP chapter. “The African-American student suffers from the same lack of resources and good teachers [as ELLs],” he said.

Under the resolution announced Oct. 11, the district is charged with creating a new master plan for English-learner services that details the goals for students in English-language classes, as well as how the program, to be put into place during the 2012-13 school year, is to be implemented and evaluated.

Curriculum, Language Focus

The new plan is intended to ensure that all students, including English-learners and black and special education students, will have equal access to the core curriculum they need to be on track to graduate, with materials targeted to their level of English proficiency. It also will specifically address the language needs of African-American students, starting in elementary school.

“This resolution is specific to Los Angeles, so it is designed to meet the needs of students [in this district],” said Russlynn H. Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, in a conference call from Los Angeles with reporters. The resolution is intended to be “a model for the country and will have great impact that exceeds the borders of Los Angeles,” she said.

Jane Hannaway, a vice president and the director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudnal Data in Education Research at the Washington-based American Institutes of Research, added, “Without a doubt, we have terrible performance gaps among ethnic and racial groups in the U.S.”

But the Los Angeles district has the advantage of strong leadership when it comes to equity in schools, she said.

“What I can say about L.A. is they have a superintendent who is not one to shy away from tough problems, so I think it will be instructive for a lot of districts to observe how [Superintendent] John Deasy deals with this,” said Ms. Hannaway.

Comprehensive Plan

Terms of the agreement require that the Los Angeles district put together a comprehensive, districtwide plan to assuage disproportionate participation of African-American and Hispanic students in the district’s gifted and talented education, or GATE, program. Schools that currently fall into that category are expected to implement steps immediately to identify students eligible for GATE by providing more professional development to teachers and administrators to help them identify such students. They also must set up informational meetings for parents and guardians of students in the affected schools.

Funding is being set aside for more technology and library resources to achieve comparability among all schools. The district also will re-evaluate its disciplinary policies and procedures in light of what the Education Department said is a disproportionate number of African-American students disciplined.

‘Stay Diligent’

The NAACP’s Mr. Jenkins said his group is pleased with the terms of the resolution, but noted that it is even more important to make sure it is implemented as outlined.

“We have to stay diligent,” he said. “The parents and community groups have to do their due diligence and stay on the U.S. Department of Education in terms of funding.”

After the final plan is approved by the LAUSD and the civil rights office, the district will be responsible for providing professional development to help implement it. The OCR will oversee the monitoring of the resolution.

A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2011 edition of Education Week as Resolution Announced in Civil Rights Probe Involving L.A. District

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