Photo by Ian Foxx
On the heels of David L. Brewer’s announced departure from the superintendent post at the Los Angeles Unified School District, a coalition of African American leaders are demanding a meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the LAUSD Board of Trustees.
The group last week also insisted that the African American community be involved in the selection of the next superintendent and that a task force be developed to specifically address the needs of black students.
The board voted Dec. 16 to hire Ramon C. Cortines with a three-year contract. Cortines was appointed the interim superintendent when Brewer announced his resignation. Brewer is expected to depart by the end of this year.
At a press conference held Dec. 11 on the steps of Dorsey High School, the group said they have come together not to focus on the Brewer’s future departure, but to shine the light on how black students are faring in the LAUSD.
“Our focus is on the decades of failed education that has resulted in African American students dropping out of school at a higher rate than every other ethnic group … on the clearly evident disparities in the quality of education between our minority inner-city schools and the welfare of white suburban schools,” said Eric Lee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference-Los Angeles executive director who led the group.
In response to the leaders’ request, the mayor’s office has reached out to Blair Taylor, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, to set up a meeting, a spokesperson told the L.A. Watts Times.
“I look forward to meeting with this group of community leaders to discuss the issues affecting African American students and all children in LAUSD,” Villaraigosa said in a statement. “This is exactly the kind of community involvement and engagement that is needed across the city to fundamentally reform public education in Los Angeles.”
The percentage of students who pass the High School English Exit Exam in California is lower for blacks — at 40 percent — than for whites — at 77 percent, according to statistics distributed by Lee, who has held regular townhall meetings on the achievement gap and the inequality of education between black and white students.
The statistics, taken from the State of Black California Report 2007, also revealed that the four-year high school dropout rate is higher for blacks — at 22 percent — compared to 8 percent for whites and that blacks have the highest high school dropout rates in Los Angeles.
Lee said that one of the major driving forces behind the gap is the teacher-quality gap that exists within the school system.
“You will find that in our inner-city schools, overwhelmingly, we have first- and second-year teachers, non-credential teachers — plus a 60 percent turnover rate within the inner city schools — compared to a tenure of 10 to 15 years of teachers who have master’s (degrees) and Ph.D.s in the suburban schools,” he said. “We have to talk about stability and the quality of education. We can’t create a stable educational environment and quality education until we address the issue of teacher inequality within our schools.”
Numerous research studies have shown that the quality of teachers is the single most important contributor to student achievement, according to Education Trust West.
The trust says that more than 40 of the 50 largest school districts in California spend significantly less on teacher salaries in schools serving the highest percentage of poor and minority students. The trust added that the spending gap has a dramatic impact on a student’s academic career and a devastating affect on the resources available to minority and inner-city schools.
“If schools in the inner cities have the highest needs and those categorical funds that are designed to improve the quality of education in our inner-(city) schools are not following the student, but are in fact going into the suburban schools where the higher salaries are, that’s an injustice and inequity that we have to deal with,” Lee said. “We hope that our task force will be able to bring light to that and bring reform to that type of system.”
Blair Taylor, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said there needs to be not only stability in the classroom but stability at the top.
“The number one priority of the school board and the community needs to create and project stability at the top of the L. A. Unified School District in the aftermath of Superintendent Brewer,” he said. “There needs to be a cohesive bottom-up approach to building unity around the next superintendent, and the need to create a bottom-up approach to building a strategy to address the needs of the groups most underperforming in this district, of which African Americans are unfortunately leading the way.”
School Board Member Margurite LaMotte said she was disillusioned by the “antics that resulted in the demise of Brewer’s superintendency.” She welcomed the group’s involvement.
“I am so happy that we will have intervention and monitoring from the group standing behind me. We’ve got to be cohesive; we’ve got to be collaborative,” said LaMotte, who added that she will work to continue some of the programs Brewer started, such as increasing the number of all-male classes in the district. “We cannot divide. We must stand together as a community and, although I serve all students as I have said before, I’m unashamedly an African American.”
In a statement released Dec. 17, LaMotte voiced support for Cortines’ new future role as superintendent.
“While some of my constituents and I still have concerns about Superintendent Brewer’s leaving LAUSD, with this global economic crisis, our own budget crisis, and in the interest of moving the District’s agenda progressively forward for all stakeholders, especially students, I voted affirmatively for now Superintendent-elect Cortines,” LaMotte said. “My vote represents my hope for this district to concertedly focus on the education of all students, especially those who are most underserved and have special needs. We must all continue to know that our students can learn and be successful.”
Lee said the next step will be for the coalition to meet and lay out their educational agenda in more detail.