OPINION: School-to-prison and white post-racial privilege

By Sikivu Hutchinson
Community Contributor

“If you’ve seen a black or Latino person portrayed as a criminal on TV within the past twenty-four hours, stand up. If you’ve seen a black or Latino person portrayed as a professional on TV recently, stand up.” These were the two powerful icebreaker questions my students asked the audience in a room packed with 9 – 12th graders during a recent Youth of Color college panel at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles.

imageRacial playing field is unlevel for college students of color, according to Hutchinson.

Virtually everyone in the room stood up for the first question. Six people stood up for the second. One student wanted clarification on what a professional was.

According to the Education Trust-West, only “20 percent of African-American ninth-graders who graduate from high school four years later do so having completed the A-G coursework needed for admission to the University of California or California State University.”

The report estimates that “if current trends continue” only one in twenty black students in Los Angeles County will go on to a four year college or university. Massive sequestration-generated cuts to early childhood education, and K-16 will only deepen these disparities.

At the college panel, young African-American and Latino first-generation graduates of Princeton, UCLA, UC San Diego and the California Institute of the Arts spoke candidly about the high-stakes climate students of color face in higher education.

A decade of racist anti-affirmative action propaganda has sanitized public discussions about racial politics in higher ed. Indeed, many education activists predict that the ultra-conservatives on the Supreme Court will strike down affirmative action policy in a landmark case involving the University of Texas. But, for many student activists, pretending like the racial playing field is level, and that white college students face the same conditions as students of color, is no longer an option. Skyrocketing unemployment amongst African-American college graduates has permanently stymied upward mobility for many working class blacks struggling to “make it” into the middle class.

According to a 2005 Princeton University study, even white, former felons got offered jobs at slightly greater rates than black job applicants with no criminal records.* The cultural presumption of white innocence, despite a criminal past, coupled with the stereotype of black incompetence/untrustworthiness, is still deep and intractable.

During the forum, Princeton University graduate and community organizer Brandon Bell talked about the assumption some white biochemistry instructors had that he wouldn’t be able to cut the rigorous coursework. Coming from the highly-regarded King Drew Medical Magnet in Compton, he was saddled with the perception of being an affirmative action admission, while his white legacy peers skated by with their meritocratic silver spoons in their mouths.

Undocumented youth activist Edna Monroy spoke of being one of only three Latinas in her graduating class to go to UCLA. California’s draconian Proposition 209 prohibited affirmative action at public colleges and universities and dramatically reduced black and Latino admissions to elite UC’s. Even though she had been a straight-A student in high school, Monroy struggled during her first year at UCLA because she hadn’t had college caliber coursework before.

Graduate student Diane Arellano spoke of being viewed as less than competent because she was the only Latina in the photography department at prestigious Cal Arts – where high profile disciplines like directing and animation, fount of the Pixar empire, were almost exclusively white male.

Bell and Monroy’s experiences highlight the institutional challenges that often prevent students of color from even getting to college – i.e., inadequate preparation at the middle and high school level, overcrowded classrooms, low caliber teachers and racist/sexist stereotypes that translate into low academic expectations.

The Ed Trust report criticizes racially disparate suspension policies that disproportionately “pipeline” black students to juvenile detention. Coupled with federal policy such as the Obama administration’s Race to the Top “accountability” initiative that mandates high stakes tests and relentlessly promotes charter schools, the over-suspension of black students is a national travesty.

Following a national trend, billionaire outsiders like Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundation have poured millions into Los Angeles charter schools.

Charter privatization is a major driver of school re-segregation. Charter re-segregation buttresses disparities in home buying, home ownership and employment amongst African-Americans of all class backgrounds.

A recent Brandeis University report concluded that the wealth gap between blacks and whites has increased dramatically from 1984 to 2009. White wealth derives from greater home equity, investments and inheritances from family. By contrast, the bulk of Black and Latino wealth comes from one place – home ownership. Because whites of all classes live in higher income neighborhoods than do African-Americans, and have benefited from lower interest rates, longer term home ownership, greater access to social amenities, living wage job centers and better-resourced schools, white privilege continues to be the engine for white upward mobility.

But there is no federal policy that specifically addresses these disparities.

The Obama administration’s “colorblind” remedies for the mortgage meltdown have been piecemeal, fragmented and grossly inadequate for the economic crisis of communities of color. Even as President Obama forges ahead with a more “liberal” second-term agenda, the administration’s robber baron race-to-the-bottom corporate education policy and its indifference to the scourge of mass incarceration underscores the lie of the American dream.

It means that students like Bell, Monroy and Arellano know that they will have to work ten times as hard as their white counterparts who can still bank on earning a nice wage of whiteness in a “post-racial” age.

*The study was based on testers, some posing as ex-offenders, applying to nearly 1,500 job openings in New York City and concluded that “black job seekers fare no better than whites just released from prison.”

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, due out on March 30.

South LA residents are concerned about upcoming sequestration

By Katie Lyons

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News.

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The highly controversial sequestration has finally arrived and will go into effect starting tomorrow. Unless Congress passes a last-minute deal, $85 billion will be cut from the federal budget putting as many 750,000 federal jobs at risk.

South Los Angeles residents are worried about how the cuts will impact their lives. One resident in particular, Barry Brewer, is worried about crime. [Read more…]

Dads read to kids at “Donuts with Dads” event

By Claire Pires

Listen to an audio by Annenberg Radio News

About 150 dads, policemen, and mentors grabbed donuts and a book today to read to kids for the 5th Annual “Donuts with Dads” event at 99th Street Elementary School in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood. image

“Almost 80% of the students at this school did not have a father or a father-figure in the homes or in their minds on a daily basis,” said Principal Courtney Sawyer of the school five years ago. “We came together to come up with a program to not only create parental involvement but to bring positive male role models into our children’s lives and that’s really where the idea of “Donuts with Dads” came from,” said Sawyer.

“Donuts with Dads” began five years ago and since this program and other family-included programs began, parent participation has grown from 20% five years ago to 90% currently.

“I talk to my kids about the urgency of education and hopefully they can continue on this path and go to college…maybe USC,” said father of two Noel Ramirez.

As student’s dads and other mentors read in both Spanish and English, students beamed in their colorful classrooms, and one student even claimed school is more fun than recess.

The school sits off of Century Blvd. in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood, and they have struggled to improve their school, but the test scores show that events like “Donuts with Dads” provide a significant improvement.

“It’s a school we believe this year is gonna be above 800 in the API for the state,” said CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools Marshall Tuck as he referred to the Academic Performance Index, which refers to the growth of schools based on their academic performance and other academic measures.”To have this happen in a few years in the heart of Watts is a phenomenal thing,” said Tuck.

imageOn the first Friday of every month, parents come to the school from 8:00-8:30am to read to the kids and encourage literacy, and they have instilled other events such as “Muffins with Moms,” to increase parental involvement.

Muffled reading in various languages echoed from the classrooms of the elementary school as students and their dads took turns reading aloud amidst the waft of donuts and the sound of pages turning.

OPINION: I smell…synergy

By Melissa Hebert
Editor of 2UrbanGirls.com

Synergy, the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc. For many years, synergy ceased to exist between cities and their respective school boards.

To say that the synergy in Inglewood and Compton were lacking is an understatement; it is the equivalent of church vs. state. However, it appears that synergy is brewing in both of these great cities.

image Melissa Hebert

Back in 1993, the state took over Compton Unified School District (CUSD) for a couple of reasons: academic and fiscal insolvency. CUSD was $20 million in the hole and test scores reached rock bottom. Scores at 20 of its 34 schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the state in 1992, and Compton residents had little recourse to get its schools back on track.

Ward Connerly, the state administer, who also happened to help author Proposition 208 (you know, removing affirmative action from education) was brought in to bring order to chaos. It was also the first time the state took over a school due to low test scores; normally the fiscal solvency is the most pressing issue.

Recently, Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) was also taken over by the state for the exact same reasons – low performing schools and a $17 million deficit. IUSD found itself asking for additional funds to keep the district operating and the state’s response was a takeover, earlier than expected.

IUSD currently has 12,000 students enrolled and we lose approximately 1,000 kids a year due to the lack of programs and creativity in the way the students are taught. IUSD has yet to come up with a plan to get kids back in school. They have actually done the opposite by removing discriminatory boundaries such as opening advanced placement classes to all students, regardless of whether they earned the right to be there or not.

While Compton Unified School District (CUSD), made a simple move that yielded huge gains.

CUSD recently made headlines when the state recognized the board’s efforts, as they increased student enrollment, which ultimately brought CUSD an additional $1.2 million in funding for the students.

“We tell districts when they are starting out to make attendance a priority that a good goal is a 1 percent improvement in ADA,” said David Kopperud, a consultant with the California Department of Education who helps oversee student attendance programs.

“If they can do that – that’s a real achievement,” he explained. “Anytime a district increases ADA above 1 percent – that’s exceptional.”

Utilizing a new web-based attendance management system, Compton’s one-year improvement resulted in a total gain of 57,326 learning days over the prior year. While it may be too early to draw conclusions, the district’s performance on the state’s Academic Performance Index increased 11 points in 2011 – 2012 to 697 – a recent high point.

So basically, by turning to a web-based attendance management system this single action allowed for decreased attendance error calculations, which most likely resulted in fewer delays in transmitting the data to the attendance clerks in the district.

The district has become much more vigilant in notifying parents when unexcused absences occur and more consistent in meeting with family members when patterns start to emerge.

It’s too bad that Inglewood Unified School District is still taking attendance by pen and paper and then counting on staff to either drive the forms to the district office or expect welfare and attendance clerks to visit the school sites and enter in the attendance forms manually.

For once, IUSD can actually learn from the progress of the Compton school board. If they followed Compton into the 21st century of technology, our children wouldn’t continue to suffer in their lack of educational funding.

Inglewood’s solution to the lower attendance is to have the children attend school on Saturday for four hours a day with enrichment studies in order to capture the missing funding.

Wouldn’t it be easier to increase technology in both the classroom and attendance office? Oh that’s right, all of the funding received from the Microsoft grant went to LaTijera, who I might add is in the bottom five of all schools in the district.

We see that the City of Inglewood has begun their share of promoting the value of IUSD schools when the annual Martin Luther King Day parade was changed from a parade to a festival at Crozier Middle School. Coincidence? Nope, not with the city preparing to sell the bonds the residents approved when Inglewood residents passed Measure GG.

The good news for Compton residents is the recent declaration of two current Compton USD Board Trustees, Satra Zurita and Skyy Fisher, have both filed to leave the school board and enter the City Council elections.

If they are able to make strides in increasing enrollment and funding for the city’s children, imagine what they can do to turn around the city’s fiscal issues? Perhaps, the money earmarked for Compton USD will actually make its way over there.

We’ll see when City of Compton holds their municipal elections on April 16. Take note Inglewood USD Advisory Board – I know we’ll be watching.

By the way, Inglewood should also take a look at Compton USD’s website because IUSD’s website looks like a 5-year-old made it.

OPINION: IUSD is getting on my nerves

By Melissa Hebert, editor of 2UrbanGirls.com

The 2012 – 2013 school year started off with a bang. Inglewood Unified School District was in debt, employee morale was at an all time LOW, the state took us over and we got a state appointed administrator. Heading into the winter recess, shit hasn’t changed. It’s actually getting worse! image

What really has my panties in a bunch is the fact that IUSD, in an attempt to be more accommodating of all students, have made the following changes:
• Advanced Placement (AP) classes are now open to ALL students
• $0 funding for GATE

Why is this disturbing to me? AP classes are supposed to be hard to get into while GATE (a program I was in) is practically non-existent. Angie Marquez, who is over GATE, has explained to us time and time again the district has zero funds for gifted students. So wait, IUSD has ZERO funds for kids who are excelling in school, but if your child is dumb and falls into the basic, below or far below categories (based on their test scores) here is what is available, so ask your individual school about these services:
• access to AP classes
• $1,100 in outside tutoring services
• laptop computer
• free uniforms
• free backpacks
• free supplies

Why do basic and below average students have access to AP and magnet classes? Former State administrator Kent Taylor stated it was a form of “discrimination” to not allow all children to enroll in the classes, and it would be up to the child to remove themselves if the classes where too hard. Well how in the hell does Inglewood Unified School District expect to retain quality children if they don’t invest in their achievements? Why should children who earned a right to be in the class be forced to share space with someone who can barely read? It is no coincidence that if you attend any of the various advisory committee or school site meetings that the hispanic community has taken a visual AND vocal stand against what is transpiring on the IUSD campuses.

They protest, write petitions regarding the piss-poor job the staff and faculty are doing both in the class, the lack of hygiene in the bathrooms, lack of administrators present on campus, staff out getting their hair and nails done as opposed to working on-site, and guess what – the district is listening. As a direct result of their actions, several principals where put on notice by Taylor about their school’s behavior (take note Mrs. Baptiste over at Bennett-Kew). It is still unclear why the program coordinator over there is in charge of a multi-subject school although her credential is for single subject only, but I digress, it is sad when only a handful of African American parents are present and voicing their concerns on the lack of education IUSD is giving our children. Are we that complacent and afraid to speak up? Do we not care about our childrens future?

A word to the wise, if you have a smart child attending one of the many Program Improvement schools in the district, get them out of the Inglewood Unified School District as fast as you can! Wilder Prep is the best school in Inglewood and you have Environmental Charter on Imperial. If you are considering a path that includes private schools, A Better Chance is more than happy to help you out. Just ask your neighbors in Ladera.

South Los Angeles high school students produce Office Max commercial

Office Max authorized us, the Urban Media Foundation news team, and subsequent producers to create a video project addressing the lack of school supplies within our nation’s schools. As a multitude of issues plague our nation’s education system, we believe this video project has the power to facilitate results, and inspire people to reinvest themselves in the future of our nation’s youth. This video project is driven by our thoughts, perceptions, and personal experiences. In addition, these anecdotes are accompanied by several dramatizations that we hope will inspire activism.

imageFrom left: Brandi Finney, Erdavria Rose Simpson, Destany Charles. In the back: Jerriel Biggles.

Even though this project was created by only a few students in Los Angeles, California, we thought it was important to address these issues on a broader scale. A flawed education system does not only affect the students in the system, but it affects the society who counts on these students to become competent citizens. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, dropouts from the class of 2010 will cost the nation more than $337 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetimes. If U.S. High schools and colleges were to raise the graduation rate of Hispanic, African American, and Native American students to the levels of white students by 2020, the potential increase in personal income would add more than $310 billion to the U.S. economy.

Our goal for this project is to hopefully expedite changes within flawed education systems. We are aware that this will take time; however, any small change is a step in the right direction. During moments of comic relief, we hope viewers will remember to think of the schools in their communities. We hope after hearing our stories viewers will want to lend a helping hand. We hope to shed light on an issue currently sitting in the dark.

We know we are still successful students despite the overwhelming statistics. Even though, we lack certain tools we still prevail. As a whole, we do not make excuses for ourselves because this hinders our learning capabilities. Instead, we appreciate the teachers, parents, and community members who are picking up the slack in order to give us the proper tools to learn.

A crisis of priorities: March 4 Day of Action, Downtown Los Angeles

Produced by Sixth Sun Productions