By John Crowder
A self-described, “African-American Promotion Ceremony” for students moving from 8th to 9th grade who reside within the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) boundaries, held on May 29, 2015, generated tremendous controversy on local social media, both during and following the event. Many expressed surprise that such an event took place, with some calling it, “segregation.” Now, other school district programs, interventions focused on African American students, are also being questioned.
Antioch Herald staff have been researching these practices, though, and have found that events and programs targeting African American students are common throughout the state of California, they have been for some time, and are supported at all levels of public education, from the California State Board of Education (SBE) to local school boards and school districts.
Throughout the state, since the identification of a substantial gap between the learning outcomes of African American students and their peers several years ago, California’s local school districts have implemented numerous programs designed to close that gap. These programs have included: African American promotion ceremonies, school/parent organizations focused on African American students, reviews and modifications of policies related to the suspension and expulsion of African American students, training of teachers in “cultural awareness,” honor rolls for African American students, and special summer program classes for African American students.
In addition, and related to the achievement gap, the data regarding suspensions and expulsion rates indicate a vastly disproportionate number of African American students being subject to these two disciplinary measures which remove students from the classroom. Locally, this has been acknowledged repeatedly by District staff at AUSD board meetings in recent months.
In this article, we detail some of the history behind the initiatives that have been undertaken to address these matters, and relate current practices, typical of California school districts, focused on African American students.
SBE Creates African American Advisory Committee
As early as 2009, the SBE had become “alarmed” at the “achievement gap that exists between African American students and their counterparts.” On January 8 of that year, the SBE released a press statement regarding the creation of an “African American Advisory Committee.” The committee was to be composed of people, “from throughout the state who are knowledgeable about best practices and research related to improving the academic achievement of African American students.”
The need for an African American Advisory Committee was based on the results of two tests, the 2008 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program and the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), and on other statistics regarding such things as high school graduation rates. On the 2008 STAR test, only 33% of African American students in California scored at proficient or above on the English portion of the exam, and only 28% scored proficient or above on the math portion.
Other statistics showed that, in the 2006-2007 academic year, only 57.6% of African American students graduated high school. On the 2008 CAHSEE, African American students scored, “substantially lower” than other ethnic groups in both the English and math sections of the test. (Data was taken from a report provided to the California SBE by the African American Advisory Committee, and reflect statistics for the entire state.)
African American Advisory Committee Makes Recommendations
From January 12-14, 2011, the African American Advisory Committee presented their recommendations to the SBE. These recommendations included such things as:
Revise school accountability reports to more prominently display subgroup data
Take corrective action with, or sanction, local school districts that, “have compliance issues” relative to “disproportional rates of suspension and expulsion of African American students
Create, “culturally responsive systems”
Local Control Funding Formula requires Local Control Accountability Plans
Programs at the local school district level that focus on specific subgroups, such as African Americans (other subgroups that are delineated include Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, English Learners, Students with Disabilities, and Foster Youth), took a major step forward when, a little over two years after the recommendations were provided by the African American Advisory Committee, the state legislature created a new methodology to pay for California schools.
In July, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), significantly changing the way California funds its schools. In an effort to obtain more transparency from local school boards while at the same time ensuring greater accountability, schools were now required to create a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). School districts were required to create these plans with input from “parents and the community.”
LCAP plans must show how a local school district will spend funds and its goals for improving student outcomes according to priorities set by the legislature.
On the Local Control Accountability Plan Template, it states, “the LCAP must describe, for each school district and each school within the district, goals and specific actions to achieve those goals for all pupils and each subgroup of pupils identified in Education Code section 52052…for each of the state priorities and any locally identified priorities.”
According to CA Education Code 52052, “a school or school district shall demonstrate comparable improvement in academic achievement as measured by the API by all numerically significant subgroups at the school or school district, including: (A) Ethnic subgroups.”
State priorities include, “score on API,” “efforts to seek parent input in decision making,” and “promotion of parent participation in programs.”
Antioch Unified LCAP
Like many school districts in the state, AUSD has recognized an education gap with its African American students. A specific subgroup identified in AUSD’s LCAP is the African American subgroup. Additionally, one of the groups specifically identified as a “stakeholder group” in AUSD is the membership of the district-created African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMAI).
Within the AUSD LCAP, and in accordance with state mandates, are stated “goals and specific actions” which then lead to various initiatives designed to address the identified learning gap with African American students.
Cultural celebrations, which is how many supporters of the African American Promotion Ceremony characterized it, are identified specifically in the AUSD LCAP (6/08/2015 Draft) as something the District intends to support.
Goal 2 of the AUSD LCAP says, “Antioch Unified School District will build inclusive school communities where all students, families, and members of the community feel welcome and valued.” Section 2.5d of the LCAP states, “Allocated school site funding will be used to provide activities that focus on connectedness, which includes, but is not limited to, cultural celebrations.”
Willie Mims, Education Chair for the East County NAACP, referenced this section of the LCAP document at the AUSD School Board meeting this last Wednesday, June 10, when he spoke in support of the African American Promotion Ceremony that had been the subject of the recent controversy. In a follow-up statement, Mims said, “Allocation of school site funds, cultural celebrations, promotions, holding and funding events beyond the school day to engage parents are all contained in Goal 2 of Antioch’s LCAP plan.”
African American focused programs in AUSD
Beyond the African American promotion ceremony, within its LCAP, AUSD includes several other actions/services that, according to the document, are specifically targeted toward African American males. For example, Section 3.2 of the document states, “The District will continue to support and strengthen the African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMAI).”
Actions to be taken in order to accomplish this goal include such things as continuing to support AAMAI, expanding a “preschool program for African American males entering kindergarten,” expanding the African American Male Preparatory Academy (a program for students making the transition from middle school to high school), providing college tours and a college fair related to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, parent training and the creation of parent resource centers.
Section 3.12 lists several strategies to be implemented in order to, “reduce the number of days and occurrences of suspension especially for African American students who are disproportionately suspended and expelled.” The strategies include increasing, “the number of schools participating in Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS),” and strengthening, “restorative justice practices.”
Section 4.5 says the District will “Provide eight week summer program for students entering kindergarten,” specifically noting the African American subgroup as a target demographic. (The District emphasizes, in promotional literature for the program, that it is open to all, but also states that the curriculum is designed with the African American student in mind.)
Other School Districts Have Similar Programs
As noted above, Antioch is far from unique in the steps it is taking to see African American students achieve greater success in school. An examination of school district websites for districts in the Bay Area alone reveals that programs and strategies, similar to what AUSD has instituted, have proliferated.
For example, while Antioch has the AAMAI, in the Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD) the Parental African American Achievement Collaborative Team (PAAACT) works toward similar goals. According to a brochure produced by the group, “PAAACT is an organization formed to advocate for parents and families of African American students in all grades and in every school of the district.”
Just as in Antioch, an African American Promotion Ceremony was held in Pittsburg, for students moving from 8th to 9th grade. While the Antioch promotion ceremony was held in a local church, and the resources used came primarily from private funds, the event in Pittsburg was clearly and visibly supported by PUSD. Their Superintendent, Dr. Janet Schulze, spoke at the event. PUSD school board member, Da’Shawn Woolridge, attended.
When asked about PUSD support for the Promotion Ceremony, Schulze said, “I was happy to attend, support and participate in the event. I thought it was a beautiful celebration and the PAACT did a great job in organizing it and the students and families were terrific.”
PUSD provided the use of the gymnasium at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, and the use of the school’s cafeteria to serve refreshments afterward. PUSD used LCAP funds in support of the event. According to Schulze, “We have funds in Goal 3 of our LCAP for supporting parent and family engagement as well as student celebrations.” Other supporters of the event included the East County NAACP and the City of Pittsburg. All students attending the event received certificates of accomplishment. Students obtaining a 3.0 or above were awarded medals, and three students who had obtained a 4.0 or better were awarded laptop computers.
PUSD, in its LCAP (approved by the PUSD Board on January 14, 2015), has language very similar to that found in the AUSD LCAP. PUSD recognizes both an achievement gap and a disproportionate number of disciplinary actions taken with African American students. The African American subgroup is specifically addressed throughout the document. Goals for this subgroup include reducing the percentage of suspensions and increasing the percentage of students meeting the UC/CSU graduation requirements. Actions include such things as providing workshops and training in “cultural competency” to staff, creation of an “equity task force,” restorative justice training, and strengthening community partnerships.
Community Groups Remain Engaged
With the implementation of LCFF and the requirement that local school districts create an LCAP with community involvement, there now exists an unprecedented opportunity for members of a community to band together and, ultimately, direct school resources toward the education of those students they represent. In Antioch, such groups regularly participate in LCAP development meetings, and lobby for funding of programs that they believe will help the students they represent succeed.
Community groups advocating for African American students are not the only ones attending these meetings, but they have been particularly effective in seeing programs, targeted toward their youth, funded and implemented. Certainly, as long as an achievement gap with African American students remains, or disciplinary measures remove African American students from classrooms at a disproportionate rate, the advocacy efforts being undertaken by these groups will continue, as will the targeted intervention programs they promote.
For more information about the AUSD LCAP and the AAMAI, visit the AUSD website, www.antioch.k12.ca.us. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the AUSD School Board is Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Meetings typically begin at 7:00 p.m., and are held at the School Services Building, 510 G Street, in Antioch.