The Los Angeles Unified School District announced plans Tuesday to overhaul how it teaches black and non-English-speaking students, following a 19-month federal investigation which found those students weren’t getting the same education as whites and native English speakers.
The education reforms are the result of the first civil rights investigation initiated in March 2010 by the Obama administration’s Department of Education.
The probe was launched to determine if English-learner students were being denied education opportunities guaranteed by law. Nearly one-third of the district’s students are learning English as a second language. The review was later expanded to determine if African American students had the same access to resources as other students.
At a Tuesday news conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy steered clear of the details about what the investigation found. They focused instead on what improvements the settlement calls for, including a master plan for English learners that is still being finalized but is expected to be in place for the 2012-13 school year.
It includes a plan for regular monitoring of new English curriculum and also calls for focusing significant attention on students who have completed basic English-language courses but are still not proficient.
As part of the agreement, the district promises to increase African American students’ access to technology, libraries, and gifted and accelerated learning programs.
The agreement also calls for the district to address inequitable discipline procedures that lead to black students being disciplined and suspended at higher rates than others.
“Los Angeles has a long and very proud history as a magnet for immigrants,” Duncan said, “but the profound demographic changes that this city has seen over the last 40 years has not come without its fair share of challenges.”
Duncan called the issues raised by the investigation difficult and politically charged.
“These are issues of enormous consequence, not just for children here in L.A. but for the entire country,” Duncan added.
Deasy said he welcomed the solutions offered by the Obama administration.
“While the district has made considerable progress in this regard, success for every student remains to be delivered,” Deasy said.
Deasy credited LAUSD board members with not shying away from the district’s own failures.
“We spent no time deciding who was to blame, and we spent little time deciding if we had issues,” he said. “Our time was spent almost entirely on how best to use the resources we have.”
Deasy used the opportunity to take a shot at Sacramento lawmakers.
“We need our state to stop under-funding its public education, over-funding its prisons,” he said.