By The Associated Press from the San Jose Mercury News
Posted: 03/09/2010 03:38:59 PM PST |Updated: 03/09/2010 05:00:07 PM PST
u p d a t e: 3/10
Los Angeles Unified School District
Office of English Language Acquisition - U.S. Department of Education
|See: COMMUNITY MEETING IN L.A. ON WEDNESDAY W/ ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF EDUCATION FOR CIVIL RIGHTS RE: EDUCATION OF ELL STUDENTS IN LAUSD |
LOS ANGELES—The U.S. Education Department is planning to examine the Los Angeles Unified School District's low achieving English-language learning program to determine whether those students are being denied a fair education.
The department's Office for Civil Rights will investigate whether the nation's second-largest school district is complying with federal civil rights laws with regard to English-language learners, who comprise about a third of the district's 688,000 pupils, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The inquiry was sparked by the low academic achievement of the district's English learners. Only 3 percent are proficient in high-school math and English.
Problems in LAUSD's English-language learning program were highlighted last fall in a study by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.
The study, which looked at the data of thousands of Los Angeles students in the sixth grade in 1999, found that a significant proportion of English-language learners—29 percent—are never reclassified as English proficient.
The study published in October found 75 percent of students had been in the district since the first grade, and that a majority were born in the United States.
Harry Pachon, president of the nonprofit research organization, pointed to a key issue—the longer students are in English-language classes, the quicker they fall behind. While other students are learning other subjects, they are predominantly focused on learning the language.
These students end up with less access to advanced placement and other college preparatory courses, he said.
"It's easier to get in to the classes than it is to get out," he said.
When parents enroll their children, he said they are asked the student's home language. If it isn't English, another set of questions are asked and "they almost automatically put you in the ELL program classes," Pachon said.
To be reclassified, students have to show grade level competency—measured by achievement on standardized tests. "For the overwhelming number, they stay in those classes," he said. "It needs to be examined."
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the Times that he welcomed the inquiry as an independent evaluation of both successful and failing programs.
"I don't think we have done well in making sure our young people continue to develop both written and oral language," he said.
If violations are found, the civil rights office could refer cases to the Justice Department, withhold federal funding and seek court injunctions. It could also send assistance to the district.
The review is the first action under U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's ramping up of his department's civil rights arm. On Monday, Duncan announced that the office will look at 38 districts around the nation on issues such as equal access to college preparatory courses and services for disabled students.
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