Hey, Black Male LAUSD Child, How Was Your First Day Of School?

"How was your first day of school?"

That's the question every parent asks their child after they pick them up at the end of the first day back on campus. I asked my two sons that question today, eons after most other parents across the United States have already asked and been answered.

In case you're wondering, our super late start this year is because of the school year being shortened due to budget cuts. Budget cuts - and the requisite staff layoffs in the face of a brand new $578 million RFK education complex opening it's doors- have made this school year's beginning all the more controversial.

But today I didn't really think about budget cuts or whether Los Angeles' kids deserve a $578 million school.

Today I thought about the fact that I have two black males enrolled in a public school in the second largest school district in the United States.

Today I thought about the fact that my eldest is now a fourth grader, the grade where most tracking really begins - and black males are disproportionately tracked into special education.

Today I thought about how the State of California makes prison construction projections based off of fourth grade reading test scores.

Today I thought about my ultra creative, rambunctious second grader and how when I supervised beginning teachers I sometimes sat in classrooms where the teacher would harshly punish black children for talking out of turn or getting out of their seat. Black kids always seemed to need to be rapidly escalated down a serious of consequences if they stepped out of line even one bit. Warnings were skipped in favor of the more drastic "call parent" or "go to the office" options. I guess because those little black boys were soooo scary and they needed to be put in their place before they got any ideas.

And what happened to the kids who weren't black if they got out of their seats or talked out of turn? Not a gosh darned thing.

These are the things I think about when my sons start a new school year... and just when I'd started to talk myself down from the ledge, just when I started to believe that everything would be alright for my boys, I had to go and check and see what was happening on Twitter.

I follow the GetSchooled blog on Twitter and I came across one of their tweets: "From @npraatc: Only 47% of black males entering high school in 2003 graduated in ''08 - http://ow.ly/2Dxh9".

Not the kind of statistic that puts a smile on my face. It was such a dose of reality, that I "retweeted" that info and the person who writes the GetSchooled Twitter replied to me, saying, in part, "FYI LAUSD only graduates 40% of it's black males."

That means 60% of black males in this district aren't graduating.

Yes, let that number sink into your psyche for a moment. Ask yourself why there isn't more of an outrage over 60% of black males in this city not graduating. Could it be our society's collective racism and lowered expectations for black males? Hmm?

Sure, I can say that won't be my boys. My boys are whip smart. They're going to be in the 40% that do graduate no matter what.

The thing is, I'm sure every parent says that. I mean, really, what mom or dad of a black male child in this city says they hope their child ends up dropping out and becoming a negative statistic?

This afternoon when I asked my boys, "How was your first day of school?" I wanted to know more than whether the teacher seemed nice. The stakes are outrageously high for my sons and for every other black male in this district. The deck is stacked against their success, and it often seems like no one cares.

Of course, my sons aren't thinking about any of that. They're full of tales about the other kids in their new classrooms and talking about whether or not they made any friends. They're full of excitement, and that makes me hopeful that everything will be alright.

But those statistics still exist. They can't be ignored... and we should all be ashamed of them. LAUSD should be ashamed.

I need - we all need - this district to address this directly and openly, and to say what they're going to do about it. And then, they need to do it. Now.


nick said…
There's an interesting British report today that says many kids categorised as having special educational needs have nothing of the kind, they simply need better teaching and support. In other words, it's the teachers who're the problem not the kids.

I guess as long as your boys have the motivation and determination to do well in their studies (and clearly you're rooting for them all the way), I'm sure they'll do fine and not end up one of those dreadful failure statistics.
Shilloy said…
I am curious about the relationship of those statistics and the successful variables in the 40% who do graduate. My guess is that one of those variables is enlightened parents who fight this systemic prejudice one grade, one school year at a time! Los Angelista you are one such parent!! Inspiring!
Liz Dwyer said…
Same here in the States with kids being pushed into special education, particularly boys.

My boys are definitely motivated and they have two motivated parents, but I worry that people excuse the % of kids not graduating by saying that those kids aren't motivated or their parents don't care. I always figured it was my job as a teacher to motivate the kids and get them excited about learning, because seriously, some of the content is boring as heck! I can remember having to diagram sentences. It was like death - but it was always better in the class of the teacher who made it super fun and like a game. Sigh.

GREAT question - is there one factor that stood out that got those 40%? Is it the teacher, a role model, a strong family unit... I hope I'm one of those parents for my kids. You're so kind to say so. But you know me, I'm worrying about everybody else's kid's too.
Cherita said…
Thank you for this excellent post! I have a black son in LAUSD too, and I didn't know that stat... it's scary! I totally blame the schools/district/teachers. My son used to attend school in a different school district, where he was accepted into a trial program that identified advanced learners in certain subjects and had those kids attend class in the grade level above for those subjects.

Then I moved to LA where no such program exists. In the space of one school year, my son went from being an advanced learner to getting horrible grades -- the dramatic decline was kind of shocking. Meeting with teachers and talking to the guidance counselor didn't help at all.

Talking to my son, the problem didn't seem to be LA culture shock or emotional fallout from the move (which was my first thought), but more that he was bored because he wasn't learning anything new, his teachers were mean (one he even described as “crazy”) and he hated the culture of the school because it felt like a “jail or something” (which I think is the most telling).

I myself have noticed a distinct difference in everything, especially in the attitudes of the teachers and administration; they're much harsher and far more apathetic than his previous school—even to me as a parent! I can only imagine how they are with the kids when the parents aren't around.

That was last year. It was so frustrating that I seriously contemplated moving back and dealing with a 1 1/2 hour+ commute, but I decided that would have potentially worse consequences in the long run. So now I find myself religiously going over my options—I've given myself until the end of this year to figure it out. It's sad, but now I understand why so many parents here put their kids in private schools. But, at least for this year I know what to expect and am ready to be vigilant.
Liz Dwyer said…
THANK YOU for breaking it down! It's horrifying what our kids face... I have so many other thoughts but I was so busy prepping for my trip to NYC & now I'm on the flt abt to go! More soon!
Bronwyn said…
same in Oakland. I'm not just trying to link to my blog, I promise. :) But I did write about this. It was a short post cause you don't have to say much: there's a difference in how kids are treated depending on their color. Period.

Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for sharing that link. Your examples in your post are exactly the same things I've seen in schools. And the kids definitely notice it too.

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