L.A. Unified Broadens Effort to Support Young Men of Color

LOS ANGELES (July 21, 2014) - About 60 of the nation’s largest school districts joined President Barack Obama today for his plan to change the educational outcomes for African American and Latino boys, beginning in preschool, so that they may enjoy a brighter future.

Superintendent John Deasy and Board of Education Vice President Steve Zimmer attended the announcement in Washington and streamed online. The pair of leaders joined others from a broad coalition of urban districts, representing roughly 40% of poor males of color. The coalition members agreed to better prepare the males for colleges and careers, monitoring their progress closely so that educators can intervene at the first signs of struggle.
L.A. Unified, like other school districts, believes in boosting their efforts for this group of males. In doing so, L.A. Unified, which began taking steps earlier to help young black and brown males, hopes to further reduce the disproportionate number of those who drop out or get suspended from school.

“It was an honor to stand with President Obama and school board members from across the nation as we pledged to make real what is already the new reality in Los Angeles: we will support our young men of color as we collectively transform outcomes through changes in policy, investments, but most of all mindsets,” said Vice President Zimmer.  

He added, “Through these changes will we make our schools places that embrace our young men instead of pushing them out.  LAUSD is committed to a new paradigm of support, respect, and love in every classroom, in every office, in every school, in every community.”

Deasy said the initiative is not only needed but also necessary to help young males succeed in the classroom. “This represents an extraordinary effort to help young men of color, something that we see as their civil right to a better education, and we are fully committed to helping them,” Deasy said. “We need them to succeed. Their success will help fuel a strong future of Los Angeles.”

Board Member Bennett Kayser added: “Having just returned from the Council of Urban Boards of Education conference in Chicago, I can affirm that the president’s actions do not come a minute too soon. The need is so great, I would encourage doubling today’s commitment.”

L. A. Unified recognized the need earlier to better support these males, as they rank, as a whole, below other students in most achievement measures, falling behind even Latino and African American females.

This helped lead the District to remake its School Discipline Policy and School Climate Bill of Rights, which was established in 2007. The program now emphasizes academic progress over punishment by promoting alternatives to school suspensions.

Through emphasizing positive behavior and support, students and family may be offered guidance, problem-solving strategies and motivation in order to help them avoid staying out of trouble. By helping to remove these potential pitfalls, the District hopes that students can establish their main priorities as attending school and pursuing academic goals.

The number of instructional days lost to suspension plummeted to about 8,300 in the 2013-14 school year from roughly 46,000 in 2010-11. That occurred, in part, because “willful defiance”—the failure to follow orders from an educator—can no longer be cited as cause for suspension.  

“President Obama’s focus on improving the achievement of young men of color is welcomed and aligned with our work at LAUSD,” said Board Member Mónica García, who played a lead role in helping L.A. Unified change its discipline policy. “In our LAUSD community, we need every investment to support our young men as they become skilled, confident, and productive leaders.”

In other examples, the District holds seminars on helping teachers reach out to black and Latino males. And L.A. Unified became a partner in supporting the California Endowment, the state’s largest private health care foundation, for a project known as “Sons & Brothers.”

The program, funded by the foundation that is estimated to cost up to $50 million over the next seven years, aims to help young males of color reach essential milestones in academics and health. This includes reading proficiently by third-grade, graduating from high school and receiving a college degree.   

“Sons & Brothers” was part of a broader plan by Obama that he announced in February, known as “My Brother’s Keeper.” The five year, $200 milllion plan was financed by the public and private sectors and aims to help young men of color as well.

In all, each of the 60 urban school systems committed to carrying out 11 specific actions for what’s known as “A Pledge by America’s Great City Schools,” by the Council of the Great City Schools. These include:

•    Ensuring that preschool efforts better serve males of color as well as their academic and social development.
•    Implementing efforts at the elementary and middle school levels to increase “the pipeline” of males of color, who are on track to succeed in high school, and increasing the numbers participating in Advanced Placement (AP), honors, and gifted and talented programs.
•    Keeping data and monitoring the progress of males of color, and intervene at the earliest warning signs of problems.
•    Reducing the disproportionate number of males of color who are absent, suspended, expelled or placed inappropriately in special education classes.
•    Working to transform high schools with low graduation rates among males of color and striving to increase the numbers of males of color and others who complete the forms for college aid.

The council also is announcing a partnership with the College Board to jointly increase the number of male students of color that participate and succeed in Advanced Placement (AP) classes in urban public school systems.

Among the school districts in California, besides Los Angeles, participating in the coalition include: Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego. To learn more about the coalition, go to: www.cgcs.org.
One District official said she hopes the renewed focus on male students of color is permanent.

“While I applaud today’s announcement at the White House, I only hope the commitment will go deep enough  to examine and eliminate the deeply entrenched systems, structures, and policies that still speak loudly to a fundamental belief in the inferiority of young men of color,” said Sylvia Rousseau, who represents Board District 1.

“We will need to examine classroom pedagogies that reject ways of knowing and learning that boys bring to the classroom and cause them to be suspended as early as kindergarten.” She added, “I hope this time, we are committed to deep change.” 

Photo: Getty Images

Contact: Daryl Strickland (213) 241-6766

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