LOS ANGELES — The State of California should finance programs specifically designed to improve the academic performance of African-American students, and community activists need a media platform to mobilize more black parents to join in on efforts to improve their schools.
Those recommendations topped a list of school funding priorities laid out by African-American parents at an education forum organized for parents and the black media in Los Angeles last week.
The comments on education finance were in response to California’s recently enacted Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) which will bring increased state funding to school districts over the next eight years. Under LCFF, the state is to provide the greatest funding increases to schools in low-income communities and those with large numbers of students who are learning English as a second language.
A number of the participants at the forum – organized by New America Media and held last week at the Baldwin Hills Library – said the state should also provide additional funding to improve the English-language skills of many black students.
Los Angeles Sentinel columnist Larry Aubry, noting the academic achievement gaps between blacks and whites, said such a program would help African-American students.
“People don’t understand that black kids are held back simply because of the way they speak,” he said.
Marian Thomas, a parent at the forum, agreed that many black students need additional language instruction. She cited the work of Ernie Smith, a linguistics scholar at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. In his books and research, said Thomas, Smith shows how enslaved Africans incorporated English vocabulary into African-based syntax — a pattern of speaking that continues to this day.
Some black organizations in Los Angeles have already supported the call for classroom instruction to address what some consider a linguistic divide. For example, the Los Angeles-based Black Community, Clergy and Labor Alliance (BCCLA), an organization whose members include representatives from the local chapters of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), commented on the issue in a recent statement about equity in education:
Black students “have unique linguistic and cultural histories and experiences that must be understood and accepted through the implementation of culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy,” said BCCLA.
Yolande Beckles, a member of the California Title 1 Parent Union, also called for school district and state action that would focus attention on improving education for African Americans.
“There is no legislation that specifically benefits African-American students,” she said. “We have to advocate for legislation for our community.”
Beckles said there is a small number of black “parent professionals” who are advocates for African-American youth, and that a broader movement would be needed to achieve change.
Rashunda Rene, director the Los Angeles-based Committed to Uplifting Single Parents (CUSP), said she would like to take part in a communications campaign to inform and mobilize black parents.
A lack of parental involvement at school and the failure of some black parents to hold their children accountable for their behavior are the primary reasons why a disproportionate number of black males are expelled or suspended from school, said Jerry Delaney, another parent at the forum.
“Many of us are sending our kids to school undisciplined,” he said.
Delaney said he was a troubled student as a boy until his mother discovered negative patterns and corrected them.
“It all starts in the home,” he said. “If you stress education at home and provide discipline at home, students will do well in school.”
However, Luis South, a member of the Los Angeles-based Black Parent Union, said school districts also bear some responsibility.
“We need people (school personnel) with proper training and understanding” of black and Latino boys, he said.
Another participant, Zella Knight, said the new funding formula would only help improve the academic performance of black students if African-American parents engaged their local school district officials.
“It’s just not going to happen without accountability,” she said.
The funding formula law requires school districts to involve parents in decision-making on how additional funds are spent. However, Knight and some other forum participants said black parents must be more organized if they are to monitor school officials and serve as more effective advocates for their children.