Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights targets L.A. Unified for investigation

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines 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 has learned.

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.

Federal analysts will review how English learners are identified and when they are judged fluent enough to handle regular course work. They’ll examine whether English learners have qualified, appropriately trained teachers. And they’ll look at how teachers make math and science understandable for students with limited-English skills — and how a school provides extra help for those struggling the most. Reviewers also will see if the district communicates effectively with parents in a language they understand.

The inquiry was prompted primarily by the low academic achievement of English learners; about 3 in 100 are proficient in math and English at the high school level, federal officials said. Focusing on L.A. Unified also makes sense because it has so many English learners, they said.

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.

“This is about helping kids receive a good education, the education they deserve,” said Russlynn Ali, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights. “This is about raising the bar and closing the achievement gap.”

L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he welcomed the probe as an outside evaluation that would help the district identify and expand successful programs.

“And if there are egregious areas of misconduct by the district I will move on it immediately,” said Cortines, who became superintendent 15 months ago.

He added that district probably ranks “above average” compared to other school systems in programs for English learners. But that’s not nearly good enough, he added.

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

Both the district and the federal agency represented the review as friendly, but enforcement options are available, including the withholding of federal funds, referrals to the Justice Department and pursuing court injunctions. More likely, the department will provide technical assistance.

The compliance review arrives at a difficult time for L.A. Unified, which is trying to close a $640-million budget gap and is struggling to make do with fewer services and employees.

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.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan launched the ramped-up enforcement effort Monday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. — the site where law enforcement officers beat and drove back 600 civil rights marchers on March 7, 1965. The Rev. Martin Luther King later led a successful and larger march to the state Capitol across the same bridge.

At Monday’s event, officials said that 38 school districts would be subject to “compliance reviews,” but they named no districts at that time.

Under the Obama administration, Duncan has used the promise of vitally needed federal dollars to leverage favored reforms, such as linking teacher evaluations to student achievement and increasing the number of charter schools, which are independently managed, mostly nonunion and free from some restrictions that govern traditional schools.

English learners are just one focus of what officials described as a resurgent Office for Civil Rights. In other districts, the division also will look at equal access to college-prep classes, equal opportunity for African American students, sexual harassment, violence, and services to the disabled.

-- Howard Blume

Photo: LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines. Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press

More breaking news in L.A. Now:

Jewelry heist at Four Seasons Hotel might be tied to series of downtown hotel burglaries

Burbank middle school teacher arrested for allegedly having unlawful sex with a student

Convicted killer Rodney Alcala plays 'Alice's Restaurant' before asking jury to spare his life

Armed man shot in Bell by L.A. County sheriff's deputies

Comments () | Archives (26)

One year when I was teaching in LA Unified, our school was required to buy Spanish language books INSTEAD of adapting the new science curriculum. I certainly hope they are going to investigate similar types of discrimination of English speaking learners.

If anyone has spent time on Yahoo answers it evidence enough that English skills are indeed lacking horribly.

Hardly a civil rights issue, lets look at just one middle school in Long Beach. 90% of the population of this school are hispanics-who, most likely 80% of the 90% are learning english.

I think this is great for the Obama administration to be pressuring LA on this issue. I personally think all the teachers and staff who aren't fluent in Spanish should be fired and replaced, with Mexican teachers if necessary! If you look at what they did to the teachers in Central Falls, RI, which has a huge population of parents and children who only speak Spanish, there's clearly a chance it could happen. As Obama's administration states in this article, it's the responsibility of the school to speak whatever language the parents speak!

Also, the school system should have classes on Mexican history and culture so that students learn about the background of undocumented workers who contribute to America.

Sure, these changes will be expensive and will mean higher taxes, but we must protect the rights of those migrants whom don't speak and aren't interested in learning English. Perhaps the Mexican government could donate some more Spanish books to LA as a thank-you gesture for providing education and health-care for their peasants.

Most people learn languages best by immersion. I did. Most if not all of the ESL programs will fail because the premise is wrong. Watch non-Hispanic students who don't go to the ESL programs, and they happen to do so much better! It's the immersion and the parents' involvement.

I'm surprised - perhaps I shouldn't be - that 90/90/90 schools (90% are English language learners / 90% qualify for free or reduced lunch / 90% are successful on standardized reading and math assessments) have not been included in the discussion.

On another note, I'm not sure if it's from lack or education or lack of attention to detail; in any case, I can't help but notice the irony in Don's comment.

We should teach all classes in spanish, I will teach my kids english, that'll teach illegals are their brood. Make american kids bilingual by 7, we will learn both, they wont, stop wasting money.

"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".

Why say close gap?, as opposed to properly demanding low achiever to bring themselves in line with Whites and Asians who's children's academic success has more to do with the Parents support, guidance and personal family "Value" systems of expecting and demanding their children learn, behave, and be good citizens. The Childs attitudes are shaped at home and should be by good parenting that is absent , replaced with gangs, criminality, fatherless homes, shameful out of wedlock multiple births encouraged for welfare benefits, the victim mentality that will always fail miserably. Our civilization is rapidly self destructing, in downward spiraling decline due to liberal policy and unnatural social engineering from the damage of massive tital waves, unabsorbable amounts of third world uneducated pheasants aliens crashing the gates of our has been finest educational systems downgraded to third world. Smart parents will continue to home school and remove your children from these laughable custodial glorified baby sitting institutions producing masses of feral children that will only graduate to welfare social programs and eventually burden a 65% or more tax rate to support this dangerous drain on society. Look at what Liberals did to this country, it's a shame.


SEC. 6. (a) Purpose.
English is the common language of the people of the United States
of America and the State of California. This section is intended to
preserve, protect and strengthen the English language, and not to
supersede any of the rights guaranteed to the people by this
(b) English as the Official Language of California.
English is the official language of the State of California.
(c) Enforcement.
The Legislature shall enforce this section by appropriate
legislation. The Legislature and officials of the State of
California shall take all steps necessary to insure that the role of
English as the common language of the State of California is
preserved and enhanced. The Legislature shall make no law which
diminishes or ignores the role of English as the common language of
the State of California.
(d) Personal Right of Action and Jurisdiction of Courts.
Any person who is a resident of or doing business in the State of
California shall have standing to sue the State of California to
enforce this section, and the Courts of record of the State of
California shall have jurisdiction to hear cases brought to enforce
this section. The Legislature may provide reasonable and appropriate
limitations on the time and manner of suits brought under this

The remedy is to have the parents become finally responsible for their student's learning--through Charter Schools, no qualifications, no supervision-all party all the time!

Doesn't anyone see what's happpening to L.A.?

If you move to the U.S. you must learn English muy pronto. No excuses. Stop using your former native language as an excuse. Either America is number in your life or go back to the country you came from. That's reak easy to understand.

Students come to Los Angeles from around the world. Why do only Spanish-speaking-only students require special assistance?

did not Antonio Villaragoza (forgive my spelling) take over the LA schools not too long back??

Illegals hate american:

Illegals can make statements in America that they cannot make in their countries. If they would make stupid statements in countries they know they would be shot. People that hate America still come here to get services. They cannot get in their countries, and want someone else to pay for them. Latinos are the ones having a hard time learning English than any other group. Some do not want to learn English, and only went to 6 grades in their country or did not attend school at all. Latinos' countries would do it for Americans, but our government is stupid for doing it for them. Higher taxes would be just the same for Obama to impress people at our expense.

Maybe we will find out about how Cortines, and the board is wasting money. Hiring friends, and family, and letting the Mayor and Eli Broad run LAUSD.

"The inquiry was prompted primarily by the low academic achievement of English learners."

Was there a complaint filed and if so is the complainant known? Could this be an extension of the previous agenda of Russlynn Ali, who had headed Ed Trust West, Ed Trust and before that was part The Childrens Defense Fund? I am concerned with the conflation of advocacy of various policy preferences with the implementation of the same coerced under the aegis of civil rights laws. Where does one become the other and how are such things to be decided?

"...communicate in a language they [parents] understand..."? Wow. How about LEARNING ENGLISH and save thousands of dollars in translation. We use to be a nation united by one language, English, now, I'm afraid, we are contributing to our own downfall. Everyone wants to speak his or her own language, and that's fine at home, but if English were learned, then the schools' job would be a hellofa lot easier.

I've been teaching ESL levels 3 and 4 at a middle school in the LAUSD for the past 7 years. We use a sequential program called "High Point," and we use detailed student portfolios to document their advances in proficiency. After a year or two, many of my ESL students read and write better than their U.S. born counterparts. The reason? Immigrant students behave better in the classroom. That's what I've seen. So this whole story sounds like a red herring or another attack on the LAUSD by the parents of failing students. They're too lazy to crack a book at home and think a social activist lawyer will make them feel better about their dismal, personal performance.

When my parents put me in kindergarten, the school tried teaching me in Spanish (in LA) I was the only white kid and only spoke English. That lasted until I came home counting in Spanish and my parents moved. This has been going on for a long time some schools have no care about teaching English, if you go there the teachers and administration all speak Spanish among themselves, this isn’t about a problem with teaching children to speak English, it’s about one culture taking over one baby at a time.

Are you kidding me? The government wants to make sure that a population that REFUSES to learn our native language are not being catered to enough? ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Part of the reason the schools are in dire financial straits is because we continue to cater to the illegal Latino population ( I am not including those who are citizens or those illegals who legitimately want to learn English and excel). We need to stop catering to their every need. I for one am sick and tired of addressing their needs when our own children, citizens of these United States are pushed aside. Invest in them.
You even have a post on here that says if AMERICAN TEACHERS are not fluent in Spanish they should be fired. PLEASE!!!!
I say it is time that these foreign countries start subsidising the education of their citizens, why should we continue to carry the burden.
Now to the African-American students and parents, get your act together. You were born here and some of you have no desire to take education seriously. I am an African-American educator and I see more drive in the Latino community to succeed than I do in a lot of you young people and your parents. I understand their desire for a better life, I just don't think they should do it illegally; but, know this, if they are willing to face harsh lives here in order to achieve the so called American dream, why do our kids continue to throw it away and take it for granted.
Parents, invest in computers, educational field trips and books, not high fashion, $150 sneakers and every high priced electronic and trips to amusement parks.
The civil rights issue here bottom line should be if our students who are citizens are being pushed aside and their education sacrificed for ESL etc.
Those white, Asian, African-American, Latino and other parents who are involved, have conscientious students who graduate from LAUSD and go to college, congrats!
EQUAL EDUCATION FOR ALL OF OUT CITIZENS CHILDREN AND THOSE WHO ARE AWAITING NATURALIZATION. For those who are leeching off of the system, your native homeland should subsidize you

Enforcing the civil rights laws is the same approach that a community alliance has relied on to enforce physical education requirements in public schools. We reached an agreement with the Los Angeles school district in December 2009 (see below).

We are taking the physical education and civil rights campaign to the state and national levels.

* * *

The Los Angeles Unified School District, in response to a community campaign, has adopted a plan to enforce physical education requirements requiring an average of 20 minutes of physical education in elementary schools every day and 40 minutes in middle and high schools. The school district, the second largest in the nation, is enforcing education and civil rights laws to help promote academic performance and youth development and reduce obesity and diabetes. The plan will ensure that schools provide properly credentialed physical education teachers, meet the physical education minute requirements, maintain reasonable class size averages, and provide quality facilities for physical education.

Obesity rates in the school district are above the national average. Evidence suggests that physical education of sufficient quantity and quality helps prevent childhood obesity. In addition, physical education and civil rights laws require equal access to physical education in California’s public schools to alleviate unfair disparities based on race, color or national origin.

The implementation plan is the result of a strategic campaign by The City Project, a policy and legal non-profit organization in California whose mission is to achieve equal justice, democracy and livability for all, working with teachers, parents, health and community activists, and school officials, including Superintendent Ramon Cortines and Physical Education Advisor Chad Fenwick.

The campaign includes five major elements. First, the teachers’ union United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) organized a public campaign to support physical education. Second, The City Project filed administrative complaints under education and civil rights laws to require the school district to enforce physical education requirements. Third, the school board unanimously adopted a resolution to enforce physical education and civil rights laws. Fourth, the district staff, under the leadership of Superintendent Cortines and Mr. Fenwick, adopted the implementation plan. Fifth, the campaign relied on social science research published by the California Endowment and others highlighting the relationship between physical education, obesity, and health disparities based on race, ethnicity, and income.

The school district serves over 600,000 K-12 students in over 770 schools. 92% are students of color, and 74% are low income (qualify for free or reduced meals).

Active Living Research, a national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is funding a study to assess the impact of the physical education campaign on student’s health. The principal investigators are Robert García, Executive Director and Counsel of The City Project, and Sarah E. Samuels, Dr.P.H., M.Ed., of Samuels & Associates. Dr. Elva Arredondo of San Diego State University and UCLA’s Dr. Brian Cole will serve as expert consultants on the evaluation.

“The physical education plan is the result of successful teamwork, including coalition building, multidisciplinary research, media, policy and legal advocacy. This is likely to be a replicable model in other states or countries,” according to Chad Fenwick, the Physical Education Advisor in the school district.

“Enforcing physical education and civil rights laws in Los Angeles is a best practice example to help students move more, eat well, stay healthy, and do their best in school and in life. We will take this campaign to other school districts that do not enforce physical education laws,” according to Louis García, a Staff Attorney with The City Project.

James Sallis, of Active Living Research at San Diego State University, noted, “Studying the implementation plan and campaign is a great opportunity to evaluate a multi-component campaign to improve physical education, which is an essential strategy for getting children active.”

The article by Robert García and Chad Fenwick entitled Social Science, Equal Justice, and Public Health Policy: Lessons from Los Angeles, is published in the Journal of Public Health Policy (2009) 30, S26-32, and is available here.

The public school campaign is a “tipping point in the physical education revolution,” according to the online journal Peaceful Playgrounds, available on the web here.

The administrative complaints were filed by parents Ike and Irene Kaludi; physical education teacher Cathy Figel; youth groups Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, and Antes Columbus Football Club; and health advocates California Pan Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) and Prevention Institute, working with The City Project.

The school district’s plan will improve education for all students:

[R]esearch indicates that physical education quantity and quality are particularly deficient for less affluent students, and those in racial and ethnic groups who are at high risk for being overweight and/or obese. According to the California Endowment . . . youth with the fewest resources are at the highest risk for health problems. Many students are not passing the state- required fitness test, and there are large disparities by race and ethnicity. Compared to non-Hispanic white and Asian girls, national data shows Black and Hispanic girls were less physically active. Less than 30% of students met all six standards in Grades 5, 7, and 9. Racial and ethnic differences are consistent with the pattern of lower quantity and quality of physical education in low resource schools serving mainly students of color. In Grade 5, for example, 34% of non-Hispanic whites passed all six standards, compared to 23% of Blacks and 20% of Latinos.

The complete plan applying physical education laws, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, California Government Code Section 11135, and applicable regulations, is available on the web at http://www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/3341.

THE REAL ISSUE IS THAT LAUSD IS LAYING OFF THOUSANDS OF TEACHERS AND HEALTH AND HUMAN EMPLOYEES EVERY YEAR SINCE 2008! Up next is 1800 elementary school teachers! It is great that the Feds are coming! Maybe they will see that LAUSD CANNOT CONTINUE TO CUT TEACHERS and mandate that the teachers who teach ESL speak Spanish and English proficiently! LAUSD does not mandate this! LAUSD NEEDS TO SELL THE BEAUDRY OFFICE NOW!

I would love to know how much government money is being wasted by Arne Duncan on this so called study. Unless you have taught English language learners yourself and have dealt with students who make little to no effort to learn, then keep your opinions to yourself! I challenge Arne Duncan to teach in a real classroom - he wouldn't last one day! Liberals who see this as a civil rights issue and who pander to lazy, unmotivated people are ruining this country.

As a teacher, English Language Development courses should be offered to all students of Los Angeles. There is so much emphasis placed on immigrant students that do not use English as their first language, but in LAUSD do any of the students really know standard English. African American students tend to receive instruction in English, but still have not mastered the English language. All students should be enrolled in an English as a Second Language Class. While the U.S. Department of Education is focusing on how immigrant children are mastering English language, who is focusing on the millions of African American children that lack qualified standard English instruction.

1 2 | »


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
Have a story tip for L.A. Now?
Please send to newstips@latimes.com
Can I call someone with news?
Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.


Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: