[lg policy] Feds investigate Los Angeles Unified School District for Civil Rights Violations

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 27 15:06:31 UTC 2010

Feds investigate Los Angeles Unified School District for Civil Rights Violations

Written by Danny Weil Education Mar 25, 2010

US Department of Civil Rights to  investigate the Los Angeles  Unified
School District

In 1987 I began work for the Los Angeles Unified School District
(LAUSD) as a bilingual second grade teacher Los Angeles. The school
was PS 122, in South Central LA.  This was a time of increased
immigration to the United States from Mexico, Central and South
America, owed largely to the dirty wars the US was waging in this part
of the world and the immense poverty due to US foreign policy
decisions in tandem with corrupt dictators.  It was also the peak of
the Reaganomic policies of hollowing out America, creating huge
deficits through tax breaks for the rich and massive spending for the

Many of my students were from war-torn El Salvador and had come to Los
Angeles as refugees from the horrendous death squads owned and
operated by the US government at the time. This was the time of Ollie
North under Ronald Reagan and practically all of Central America was
under US client-dictatorship.  Other students in my class were from
Nicaragua (where I had spent the year in 1985 working for the Ministry
of Culture).  Still others were from Mexico and were escaping the
devastation of the economy and the ramped up corruption that never
seems to let the country of Mexico sleep.  Some of my students were
from Guatemala and had managed to escape the brutal military
dictatorship that was put into place by the US, first with the murder
of Arbenz in 1954 and then later with the help of generals from
Honduras.  Certainly all of my students were victims of the public
policies of poverty both in their own countries and in the US.

I had been fortunate enough to have been educated in teaching
bilingually and I followed the work of Dr. Stephen Krashen (now with
School Matters). Those of us who considered ourselves ‘bilingual
teachers’ and who were ‘active’ activists within the California
Association for Bilingual Educators (CABE) as well as active within
our union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) knew that
bilingual education worked both to help students maintain their native
language and acquire a new language as well as allowing them to keep
up with curriculum content so they would not fall behind and end up
sixteen years old in a third grade classroom.  We also knew that the
ruinous politics of neo-liberal economics was strangling any positive
economic policies designed to uplift students and their families.

But decades of massive deficits in education, bilingual bashing,
immigrant hatred and ‘English Only’ (supported by Schwarzenegger) sent
bilingual education into the dust bin of history.  The swelling
immigration that was to continue and still does, fueled the right
wing, at this time under the George Deukmejian and later Pete Wilson
republican gubernatorial regimes, to demonize and thwart the efforts
of bilingual teachers and bilingual education.

Much like today, fear mongering and hatred lined the consciousness of
many white city residents who had lived through desegregated “bussing”
in the 1960’s and now found themselves living with refugees from the
countries that their tax dollars helped devastate. They were and are
confused and simply do not understand the causes of massive
immigration, mainly from Asia (after the Vietnam and Cambodia wars)
and Latin America.  Seedy politicians like Deukmejian and Wilson
capitalized on fear and anger to contain education and promote the
hatred of teacher unions under a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.

Bilingual Education and Whole Languag Instruction

In a nutshell, real bilingual education was and is about teaching
subject matter content in a child’s native language while teaching
English as a second language (ESL) alongside.  So, for example I would
teach bilingual reading and bilingual math.  This meant with one half
my class I would work in Spanish, with the other half in English.
However the goal was to begin in kindergarten with the objective of
adding more and more subject content areas in English instruction only
so that a child would transition in third grade into an all English
curriculum.  Three years of core curriculum would be taught in one’s
native language, while subjects like music, art, science and physical
education would be taught in English.  ESL was a separate program
daily that would then reinforce English language skills so that
children would be ready to transition in third grade to an all English
instruction classroom.

During this time we had bilingual aides who could help in the
classroom with instruction; and they were usually bilingual.  We also
worked at the school site as teachers to assure that our theories and
practices were aligned for transitioning students.  When left alone by
administrators we as teachers worked together to make on-site
decisions that benefited children.

Because I worked in South Central Los Angeles at the time, a section
of LA where many newly arriving immigrants arrived, we had the support
of the majority of the community and the teacher’s college at
California State University at Dominguez Hills.  In fact, many
teachers pursued what were then called ‘multi subject bilingual
teaching credentials’ and many of us went to Dominguez Hills State
University for one and a half years to receive our credentials.  We
also had to take specific state tests to measure our own fluency in
the both Spanish language and Latin American culture, as well as to
assess our ability to teach bilingually.

The misnomer, now and then, is that bilingual education keeps students
prisoners in their own language with no transition skills; and that if
they are left to sink or swim in English, they would adapt more
rapidly to English language and the so-called “American culture.”
This argument coupled with neo-liberal economic policies and the rise
of the rightwing and anti-immigration sentiments of the time
eventually destroyed bilingual education and with it the chance for
thousands and thousands of students to become bilingual, literate and
critical thinking citizens.

Not only did sink or swim not work, nor does it, but it more than not
left students with no English language skills studying subjects like
multiplication or reading with absolutely no comprehension abilities
and thus no chance to learn.  They then fell behind, often one or two
grades, which eventually caused many of them to drop out of school
forever and enter the streets of what were then the killing fields of
South Central Los Angeles.  Many are incarcerated in the burgeoning
for-profit prisons that we call ‘public housing’ in America.

It is easy for the mendacious and racist English Only movement, which
it called itself back then before in your face immigrant bashing was
the fad, to say a child at seven years old must go to elementary
school and be instructed in 14 subjects daily in a language they do
not understand nor comprehend.  It is easy to tell a student at six
years old they need to know what the word ‘melon’ is in English when
they don’t even know what the word is in their own native language.
It is easy for the English Only movement to tell parents of
non-English speakers that they should help their children at home with
their homework when the homework is in a language the parents
themselves do not understand.  More than that, it is and was at the
time I taught, racism and vicious classism.

I have seen many students destroyed by those bent on equating learning
to think critically with learning to speak English or pass an all
English standardized test.  The assumption was then as it is now among
many, that if someone cannot speak or read in English they cannot be
educated or think critically.  The evidence always proved them wrong
but the slash and burn policies of the district gutted bilingual
education claiming it did not work.  With the same fish knife they
also decimated the lives of many students.

Thus, when I left South Central in 1989 and moved upstate to work with
migrant children, I could already see that bilingual education was
becoming disarmed by right wing forces.  For more than 20 years
bilingual education was plummeted by rightwing monolingual and
sometimes bilingual commentators who said bilingual instruction was
failing ‘kids’.

Now, according to the LA Times of March 19th, the federal government
has targeted the Los Angeles Unified School District for its first
major investigation under a reinvigorated Office for Civil Rights.
The Times reported on March 19th:

“The probe will focus on services to students learning English, who
make up a third of the enrollment in the nation’s second-largest
school system” (U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights
targets L.A. Unified for

Federal analysts now have to step in and review how English learners
are identified and when and how they are judged fluent enough to
handle regular course work. Because the LAUSD abandoned bilingual
education and whole language instruction in favor of phonics the feds
now have to examine whether English learners have qualified,
appropriately trained teachers. By abandoning bilingual education for
students and whole language instruction it also meant abandoning
bilingualism and reading in general and has generally left a
population of teachers who are monolingual and cannot teach the
students they are asked to serve.

With no teacher preparation for how to transition students into
English curriculum content these teachers are as frustrated as the
children they teach.  They often cannot communicate with the parents
of their students; they do not provide the same level of math and
science instruction for they do not know how to teach the material to
second language acquisition learners.  Add to this the fact that many
administrators and teachers have low-expectations for children whose
native language is not English and we acquire many public policy
problems that devastate learning.  Many LA schools provide no extra
help for struggling children who are simply thrown into seats in a
classroom without teachers who can communicate with them, let alone
provide them learning opportunities.  They are then subjected to
testing, a form of an ‘educational Guantanamo’.

The result has been decades of low academic achievement among English
learners; about 3 in 100 are proficient in math and English at the
high school level, according to federal officials (ibid).

Closing the “Achievement Gap”

The Office for Civil Rights, an arm of the U.S. Department of
Education, is charged with enforcing laws that protect students from
discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin and
disability status.

L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he welcomed the federal
probe, stating that an outside evaluation would help the district
identify and expand successful programs.  But this is smoke and
mirrors from a Superintendent that has sold his soul to the charter
charlatans and the political brass that let him keep his post if he
went along with school privatization efforts and school closures.  The
real issue is that Cortines himself is not qualified to run a district
of this magnitude.  Also, the district itself is too big; it must be
decentralized and run by those who labor in the schools – teachers and

Supt. Cortines told the LA Times that the school district probably
ranks “above average” compared to other school systems in programs for
English learners. But that’s not nearly good enough, he added (ibid).
“Probably”?  Sorry, but this is not good enough data to make public
policy decisions.  If there is no factual data about the students and
teachers who attend and teach in the third largest school district in
the country, then curriculum and teaching decisions are being made
based on unbridled assumptions or worse yet, hidden agendas.
According to Cortines:

“I don’t think we have done well in making sure our young people
continue to develop both written and oral language” (ibid).

No, certainly not and it has to do with the abandonment of bilingual
education and whole language instruction in favor of “hooked on
phonics” instruction; a nasty and ruinous consequence many of us
feared two decades ago as bilingual programs were being dismantled.
We now have many students who are literate in neither their native
language nor English.  Sink or swim has left students in a rapidly
moving current with no raft.  The majority sink, few swim.  The
current policy of phonics instruction and ‘sink or swim’ is deplorable
and at least one generation of youth has been damaged if not abandoned
by the English Only movement and its neo-liberal and racist

Now, with fewer services and programs due to massive budget cuts and a
district too big to wield, students suffer and the district gets a
visit from the Feds.  Withholding federal funds from the district is
one enforcement option, but with the district trying to bridge a $640
million budget gap it is unlikely.

The Times noted that:

“The ultimate goal of federal officials is to exert pressure on L.A.
Unified and other school districts to close the achievement gap that
separates white, Asian and higher-income students from low-income,
black and Latino students. The federal government has the authority to
examine practices that harm groups of students, even in the absence of
intentional discrimination” (ibid).

Duncan to the rescue?

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was quick to announce his
beefed–up enforcement efforts Monday, the 15th of March at the Edmund
Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the site where law enforcement
officers beat and drove back 600 civil rights marchers on March 7,
1965.  At the staged event, Duncan stated that 38 school districts
would be subject to “compliance review”, but he refused to name the
districts.  We now know one of them.

Under the Obama administration, Duncan has dangled the promise of
vitally needed federal dollars to extort reforms from districts, such
as linking teacher evaluations to student achievement (inauthentic
testing) and increasing the number of charter schools, which are
independently managed, mostly non-union and free from some
restrictions that govern traditional schools.

Any mention of returning to bilingual education by the dubious thinker
and policy wonk, Duncan?  No, of course not.  Just flavorless rhetoric
and obsequious stage talk about how teachers should be evaluated when
teaching children they cannot communicate with; you’ll hear nothing
about helping prepare teachers to understand the concepts of bilingual
education or whole language instruction which worked so well at 122nd
Street Elementary School and elsewhere in Los Angeles.

All Arne Duncan cares about is the numerologist game of testing and
setting up testing regimes.  At 122nd Street Elementary school my
students might not have done as well as they could under the
‘standardized tests’ mandated by the state at the time, but what they
did do well was learn to live with other cultures, develop empathy and
learn to love education in conjunction with other students.  This is
far more important than any standardized test.  The real curriculum is
life and as teachers and students, we both understood this.

The mantra of most of the educational bureaucrats and administrators
will remain the same until challenged: underachievement is due to
personal failure or ‘non-transitioning’ and sink or swim will remain
policy because everyone must speak English to learn.  The charter
schools have no plans for English learners other than benching them or
drilling them with the horror of phonics, the enemy of all language
acquisition; especially a language like English that is not phonetic.

We don’t need a federal inquiry to know that the LAUSD under
Superintendent of Schools Cortines and Mayor Villaraigosa is failing.
They are proponents of its failure, preferring Green Dot and other
EMO’s (educational maintenance organizations) to reshuffle the deck of
school reform.  This time though, the card game is supposed to be
private and the card deck fixed.  Instead of adopting time proven
solutions like whole language and bilingual instruction, these
bureaucrats blame teachers, close schools and then contract them out
or merely give them away to charter hooligans intent on making a buck.

The problem of what plagues LAUSD and its students and teachers is the
abandonment of bilingual education and whole language instruction and
the underlying assumption that those who do not understand English
cannot think critically.  This deadly assumption that has doomed kids
to failure and left them bereft of education and both a primary and
secondary language is now coming home to roost, along with the
pernicious neo-liberal policies like ‘Free Trade” or NAFTA that have
shuffled out our productive capacity and left no manufacturing base in
cities like LA.  Poverty and lack of education, thus persist.

The federal government will find that a shift in economic policy,
whole language instruction and bilingual instruction for both teachers
and students is a necessity if students are to close what the
bureaucrats call the “achievement gap” and what humanitarian educators
call ‘critical thinking or critical literacy.  Bring back the
legitimate theories and practices of both whole language instruction
and bilingual education and our children can excel.  Allow teachers to
have adequate bilingual preparation and to make decisions at school
sites as to how to prepare students for a rapidly changing global
world.  Unleash the creativity of parents, teachers and students in
favor of the bureaucratic mismanagement of blind overpaid
administrators with bloated salaries and no imagination.

The problem of course is that those who wield power do so not for the
children they serve, but for the politicians, the corporations and the
privatizers who look at our students as cattle needing to be fed and
the teachers who try to teach them as cattle feeders.

It is time to shift the military expenditures that make us all less
safe to domestic policies like educating children and providing health
care and after school and pre-school activities.  It is time to end
the trillions spent on war and shift our focus to civilian life and
eduction, rapidly vanishing under the tutelage of those who have never
taught students nor care to try.

Just a note:  You can see and hear Stephen Krashen on April 30th from
5:45 – 6:45 PM at Wayne AU California State University Fullerton will
be will be speaking about the “Role of the Professional Teacher.”
Euducators and Parents Agaisnt Test Abuse is hosting a two day event
for the community and you can get a hold Glenn DeVoodgd, Ph. D and
professor and chair of the Department of Literacy and Early Education
at (559) 278 0279 or contactJsoeph Lucido at (559) 978-5082 or Horace
Lucido at (559) 277-1312.  This event is a two-day event so do mark
your calendars.


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