Los Angeles Unified’s new Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has released his first strategic plan outlining his vision of success for a district grappling with how to help students recover from a learning crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The plan, shaped by the superintendent’s core priorities and informed by guidance from the Board of Education with significant input from students, educators, and community members will guide the district’s priorities for the next three years and lay the groundwork for new initiatives to foster student success.
For this plan to succeed, it must not only reflect the extensive input the superintendent sought from LAUSD communities, but must also prioritize action to intentionally dismantle the structures and power incentives that limit opportunities for hundreds of thousands of students of color across the district.
Not every student is met with a caring and empowering environment at school. Rather, students of color are asked to navigate institutions built around Eurocentric curriculums, inequitable funding structures and a workforce that is not reflective of who we are.
In the fall of last year, as LA students prepared to return to school in person for the first time in a year and a half, my organization, Our Turn, launched a survey to gauge what students were thinking and feeling. Overwhelmingly, our survey revealed a desire to take on the ways that structural racism still shapes resource allocation, curriculum selection and school cultures, stymieing the success of students of color in LAUSD.
There is some momentum behind this work. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 101 into law, which requires California high schools to teach ethnic studies courses by 2025. Los Angeles Unified will also require ethnic studies as a graduation requirement for students by 2023.
These are both admirable attempts to begin changing the status quo. But the work of ensuring that we teach the full, unadulterated history of peoples of color in our schools is far from over. Entrenched racism is keeping LA students of color from maximizing their potential and accessing lives of opportunity and full agency. More expansive reforms and more direct action are necessary.
Research shows that having a demographic or cultural match between teachers and students positively impacts everything from test scores to suspension rates, and that the underrepresentation of educators of color limits the success of students. Neuroscience research also shows that students do better when the curriculum reflects their own cultural backgrounds because the brain searches for personally relevant connections to material when we are learning.
To seize on the opportunity to reorient the district away from a status quo that holds students back, Superintendent Carvhalho must align his agenda with intentionally building on this knowledge to support students currently marginalized in LAUSD. As his pandemic recovery plan and overall strategic agenda continues to take shape, we specifically hope he will take the following actions:
- Allocate dollars to fund a community-led search for culturally inclusive curriculums, textbooks and lesson plans.
- Terminate contracts with the current textbook providers.
- Initiate a pilot program to provide more inclusive textbooks in select priority schools as identified by the Student Equity Need Index, which identifies the schools in LAUSD that most meet the criteria for additional resources under the Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s K-12 funding formula.
- Provide all students with more inclusive textbooks in every subject including history, English, literature, art and math by 2025.
- Engage in meaningful consultation with Indigenous tribes and tribal organizations.
- Require schools to foster and affirm a safe culture for Black, Indigenous and other students, including ensuring school staff represent the diversity of the student body.
Everyone within LAUSD has a responsibility to create schools and classrooms where healthier futures are forged. As the district’s new leader, Superintendent Carvalho has the incredible opportunity to pursue this goal. Through his leadership, the superintendent can move the district toward becoming a more honest and inclusive system that will transform the student experience for the better.
Salma Ocelotlxochitl Perez is from northeast Los Angeles and is a student at Mount St. Mary’s University. Avery Collins-Byrd is from South Central Los Angeles and is a student at the University of California, Los Angeles. They are both fellows with Our Turn, an organization that works to advance equity in education systems in cities across the country.
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