Latino & Black Students Prisoners of Dem-Run L.A. Schools

The Left fights to shorten the school year and cracks down on overly effective charter schools.

Editor’s note: The following is the sixth in a series of FrontPage articles unmasking the racial injustice of Democrat-controlled education. Read our previous reports on the public school systems of  Washington, D.C.DetroitPhiladelphiaChicago and Atlanta.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the next school district to be examined in this multi-part series. Unfortunately, it bears a striking resemblance to all the other big-city districts in terms of lagging graduation rates, a large achievement gap, marginal grade-level competency and entrenched Democratic Party control. The one exception: it is Latino, rather than black American students, who comprise 73.4 percent of the student population. Black American students are the next largest group at 10 percent. Both groups are lagging behind their white and Asian counterparts at every turn.

Once again, the stats are familiar, and familiarly daunting, especially with regard to male students. In the 2009-2010 school year, the graduation rate for white, non-Latino males was a dismal 64 percent. Yet that represents the high water mark. The graduation rate of Latino male students was 62 percent, while only 41 percent of black male students received a diploma.

The all-important National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test painted an equally bleak and equally familiar picture as well. At the 8th grade level, just 9 percent of both black and Latino males tested at, or above, proficient in reading, and only 8 percent of blacks, and 11 percent of Latinos were at, or above, proficient in math on the 2011 NAEP examinations. These numbers represent an achievement gap of 27 percent relative to white, non-Latino students in reading and a 38 percent gap for blacks and a 35 percent gap for Latinos in math.

Overall, the graduation rate in the LAUSD was 61.6 percent for the class of 2011, and the drop out rate was 20.6 percent. In 2010, the graduation rate was 62.4 percent and the drop out rate was 24.8. These figures are a bit misleading in that LAUSD doesn’t count seniors who fail to graduate, but still remain in the classroom, in the calculations. The number of those particular students increased from 12.2 percent to 17.5 percent from 2010 to 2011. For blacks and Hispanics specifically, the 2011 graduation rate increased from 71.6 to 74.9 percent for blacks, and the graduation rate fell 1 point to 59.8 percent for Hispanics. Drop out rates  fell for both groups, from 30.1 to 24.5 percent for black students, and 25.2 percent to 21.1 percent for Hispanics.

In a better world, such percentages, although trending in a marginally better direction, would still be cause for alarm. In the world of big city school districts, they are lauded. ”I’m extremely pleased with the results and the knowledge that we are already making good progress (for 2012),” said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. “Looking back more than a year ago, far fewer kids have left us, which is very positive…Even though they struggled, they stayed with us.“ That would be the same John Deasy who got together with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week, hoping to procure a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law for 10 districts that combined serve more than one million students. The law’s requirement that students pass English and math tests by the 2014-15 school year has been deemed “unrealistic” by state education leaders.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Education Trust-West, a statewide advocacy group, offers the proper perspective regarding progress. ”Even though these rates are improving, at the rate California is going, it will take us 13 years to close the graduation gap between Latina and African-American students and their white peers,” he said. “Tens of thousands of dropouts represent a large-scale tragedy for the California economy and our state’s future prosperity.” Further perspective? Thirteen years represents a student’s entire public school experience, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Thus, thousands of additional children will be churned through a LAUSD system where, like so many of their big-city counterparts, genuine reform remains familiarly elusive.

Yet even that ostensibly rosier future remains dim for minority students. In January, the Education Trust–West released a two year study of the LAUSD that ought to enrage those minority students and their parents. While it revealed that the top 25 percent of teachers can “dramatically accelerate student learning,” giving students as much as six months of extra learning compared to the bottom 25 percent of teachers, it also revealed that the top 25 percent “are less likely to instruct lower-income students and students who are Latino or African-American,” and that this elite group of teachers “are also more likely to leave the district’s highest need schools.”

The disparities are damning. According to the report, “low-income students are twice as likely to have a low value-added English-Language Arts teacher and 66 percent more likely to have a low-value added math teacher. Latino and African-American students are up to three times more likely to have a teacher from the bottom 25 percent.” The reason for such disparities is tiresomely familiar: union work rules. Like all unionized big city schools systems, seniority trumps teacher quality in terms of assignments and layoffs. The longer one is in the system, irrespective of effectiveness, the more protected–and unaccountable–one becomes.

As for teacher effectiveness per se, the LAUSD has rendered the term virtually meaningless. A 2009 study reveals that a surreal 99.3 percent of the teachers in the system were rated as “meets standards.”  The absurdity of this stat is belied by the reality that 62 percent of principals overall, and a whopping 82 percent of middle school principals, reported that they had either “displaced” a teacher, or encouraged a transfer, due to poor performance. In short, the “meets standard” standard is meaningless and likely fraudulent.

The LAUSD is attempting to create its own teacher accountability system, but the motive for doing so is hardly noble: they’re attempting to get the waiver from the aforementioned No Child Left Behind law currently denied to districts statewide. That denial is based on the fact that state officials remain opposed to tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. In other words, the politicians remain beholden to teachers union clout, while students and parents get shafted.

It is a clout whose unseemliness is revealed by the antipathy directed by the LAUSD against charter schools. In 2011, it was revealed that Los Angeles’s 183 (now 185) “LAUSD-authorized” charter schools outperformed LAUSD schools “across all grade levels on the Academic Performance Index (API), California’s primary academic accountability metric for schools.” For Latino students, the difference was stark: API scores were more than 100 points higher for Latinos attending charters than their counterparts at non-charters. In response to that “threat,” the Los Angeles School Board voted to impose severe restrictions on the ability of charter operators to apply to run new schools in the next round the Public School Choice initiative.

Last December, Los Angeles school district officials won a reversal in the California Court of Appeals of a lower court ruling that would have opened up substantial numbers of LAUSD classrooms to charter school students. State law requires school districts to offer charters space that is “reasonably equivalent” to that provided for public school students. The California Charter Schools Assn. argued that LAUSD uses a number of classrooms for purposes other than instruction and, therefore, they were entitled to more space. The Court of Appeals disagreed, vacating the lower court’s order that LAUSD take an inventory to evaluate their space.

As with other big city school districts, the ham-fisted attempt to stifle competition should come as no surprise. The unions and their political lackeys in both the city government of LA and the state legislature are more than willing to protect the status quo for the simplest of reasons: as this devastating exposé of the California Teachers Association (CTA) reveals, that union’s approximately 325,000 members represent the most powerful special interest group in the state. The CTA has spent millions upon millions of dollars to block anything resembling genuine accountability for its members. Furthermore, it spent nearly $102 million on political contributions from 2003 through 2012 to support the unabashedly progressive agenda championed by Democrats, who received 99.92 percent of the funding. In other words, just like every other school district chronicled in this series, the LAUSD is a Democratic stronghold. In fact, the entire state is a now Democrat stronghold: as a result of the 2012 election, Democrats have an unassailable two-thirds super-majority in both chambers of the state legislature.

This symbiotic relationship has been an absolute boon for teachers statewide, and LA teachers in particular, who earn an average of $94,000 per year. Furthermore, after 30 years on the job, California teachers can retire with a pension equal to about 75 percent of their salary. Thus, it is completely unsurprising that in 2012-13, the LAUSD faced its fifth consecutive year of budget deficits, the lowest of which was 2011-12’s total of $408 million. The 2012-13 budget of $6.3 billion was passed last June, closing a final $169 million deficit that was originally projected to be  $557 million, until there was an infusion of unexpected revenue into state coffers. Even with that revenue, the budget was predicated on the necessity that California voters would opt to raise their own taxes on Election Day, which they did. Yet balancing the budget still came with a price: the school year has been shortened by ten days.

And so it goes. Despite all the promises, pledges and platitudes regarding reform, promulgated by the Democrat-union alliance that controls public school education in America’s big cities, the actual results they produce are consistently dismal, especially for minority student. Millions of black and Latino children are trapped in what amounts to educational wastelands. They are wastelands where the grim realty of dismal graduation and drop out rates, a chronically persistent ethnic learning gap, and the ongoing failure to bring students to grade-level proficiency in the foundational areas of reading and math, have been firmly established as the status quo.

Reform, like prosperity in Barack Obama’s economy, is a promise whose fulfillment remains unerringly “just over the horizon,” even as the litany of excuses for the failure to reach it remains intact. There is never enough money, class sizes are too large, and families are too fractured. That thousands of schools operate successfully on far less money, with equally, if not more crowded, classrooms full of equally disadvantaged children, is never acknowledged. Neither is the reality that the same “bad parents” whom educators invariably blame for their shortcomings were educated in the same wastelands as their children.

It is hard to imagine any other enterprise where multi-generational failure has not only been routinely tolerated, but, due to the corrupt relationship between Democrat politicians and school unions, ultimately rewarded. For years, most Americans believed the dumbing-down of our nation’s children was the result of mass incompetence. More and more, they are beginning to believe that these educational wastelands are breeding grounds for the “low-information” voters who seemingly assure the Democratic Party that they will maintain permanent majorities in our nation’s biggest cities.

Whatever the case may be, the larger picture is far more important. American students are now competing on a world stage against countries where the education of young minds remains a high priority. Those children have routinely bested America’s on international tests. When one considers the reality that America’s minority children invariably lag behind their peers, their futures in a global economy grow grimmer still.

In a better world, the almost purposeful abandonment of minority children to a compromised future would be seen as institutionalized racism it truly is. In modern day America, it remains business as usual. A pathetic and infuriating business as usual, courtesy of the usual suspects: the powerful leftist alliance of Democratic politicians and their teachers union patrons.

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