Feds: ESL and Black Students Get Inferior Educations in LAUSD

But will new reforms spread to schools across the country?

By Jorge Rivas Oct 13, 2011

A 19-month investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is failing to provide an equal education to English-learners and black students. The school district has agreed to sweeping reforms that could become a model for other school districts around the country.

LAUSD is the nation’s second-largest school system and has more students learning English than any other district in the United States — about 195,000 students, or 29 percent of the district’s overall enrollment, according to the Los Angeles Times. Black students make up an estimated 10 percent of the district’s enrollment.

It’s precisely because of those demographics that the Obama Administration launched their investigation to determine if students who entered school speaking limited English, most of whom are Latino, were receiving adequate instruction.

The district’s English-language learning program has long been criticized for allowing non-native speakers to remain in English-learning programs for years, even when they don’t meet the criteria to be integrated. Students often fall behind grade level and end up dropping out.

The Times provides details of the settlement between the LAUSD and the Department of Education:

Federal authorities do not accuse the district of intentional discrimination. But the settlement requires a top-to-bottom revision of the district’s Master Plan for English Learners, which is already well underway. The goal is to let the district develop the details, under continuing oversight from the Office for Civil Rights, a branch of the Education Department.

Under the settlement, the district for the first time will focus on the academic progress of students judged to have adequately learned English. Many of these students subsequently flounder academically. The district will also concentrate efforts on students who have reached high school without mastering the English skills necessary to enroll in a college-preparatory curriculum and who may be at risk of dropping out.

"What happens in L.A. really does set trends for across the nation. More and more school districts are dealing with this challenge," Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights, told the LA Times.

Warren Fletcher, president of teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles, praised the Education Department for shedding light on longstanding disparities, but noted that the district has laid off more than 1,200 teachers and closed libraries in many schools.

"It’s very general," he said, regarding the settlement, to the AP. "We have to see how those services are going to be provided."