LBUSD Parents Worry Student Scores Scraping Bottom
By Dianne Anderson
Grades for Black students in Math and English fared far worse during the pandemic than all other groups of students, a systemic failure that is providing a teachable moment for educators at Long Beach Unified School District.
Frustrated Black parents and advocates turned out to the last LBUSD board of education meeting about what must be done to address the huge learning gap in race disparities, and how to fix it.
Parent Jerlene Tatum said that having served on the new Black Student Achievement Initiative Advisory group, she feels the district has fallen short in several areas. She blamed part of the disconnect in school district communication.
Tatum has worked with noted advocacy groups on behalf of Black students, including the Children’s Defense Fund, Public Advocates, and Innovation in Public Schools. She said Black parents must be considered partners along with the district.
“We’re not enemies and we’re not appendages, so please do not treat us as so,” she said. “And when you get to the conversation about engagement, can you please ensure that when you engage us, you believe that we are worthy of being engaged with because we have been questioned on our value and our worth at the table,” said Tatum, a parent of two children in the district.
According to Edsource Achievement Gap results, Black student achievement in Math and English is at the bottom of the charts for all groups in the district, followed by Hispanics. The latest data shows Black students just shy of similar low grades in 2015. An uptick in 2018-19 plunged for Black student through the pandemic, but white students maintained a 30-40% lead in meeting or exceeding the academic standard since 2015.
To address the gap, more funding is coming down to support Black students with additional programming Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Programs between now and September of 2024.
LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou said supplemental funds due to COVID and COVID-related resources have brought LBUSD about $480 million since 2020. ESSER funds represent the last three federal allocations, and run at about $330 million of the $480 million.
To date, the district has spent about $200 million, with plans to spend $137 million in 2022-23, and $133 million in 2023-24, he said. Another $10 Million is allocated for the summer of 2024-25.
“All of these expenditures will be prior to ESSER expiration dates in September 2023 and September 2024, as we will spend expiring resources in order of expiration,” he said.
Eftychiou said the local education challenges generally reflect a trend seen elsewhere in California and nationally.
“[With] many students adversely affected by the circumstances of the pandemic, the distance learning that occurred during school closures, and the challenges of returning to in-person learning. We’ve been aware of these challenges, and our resource allocations are prioritized to make the greatest impact in the areas of greatest need,” he said in an email.
Education justice advocate Dr. Kim Tabari expressed concerns at the board meeting, drawing attention to the phrase, “soft on people, hard on systems,” and that many at the district meeting table represented the system.
“But sometimes, the two intersect. You are the system. You are the people that oversee the system, right?” said Tabari, who has a teen son in the district.
She said promises have been broken.
“A lot of what it feels like gaslighting to me, not a ton of conversation, not a ton of transparency, not a ton of visible action. I know that it’s coming. But I’m here, cautiously optimistic,” said Tabari, who holds a doctorate in education leadership, and also the Organizational Development Director at the USC Equity Research Institute.
Tabari stressed there is a desperate need for academic excellence.
“I just want to end by saying Black students matter, Black students matter, Black students matter,” she said. “I do not want to wait another 10 years for academic excellence.”
Dr. Christopher Lund said conversations with district principals and teams are on goal setting, monitoring classes, professional development, and action planning to help teachers identify what good teaching consists of.
He said the equity lens is on who is, and who is not, benefiting from the instructional practice.
“And really calling that out in our work, centering our Black students in particular in the conversations that we’re having, specifically identifying goals for our Black students in each of the measures that we are capturing from a culture climate and academic standpoint,” said Lund, LBUSD Assistant Superintendent of Middle/K8 Schools.
He said academics and safe healthy schools are important, along with strengthening relationships with Black students.
“If you have 96 Black students in this school, knowing them by name and really what is the relationship that you are building within and across their classrooms at the middle school level, just as an example,” said Dr. Lund.
Board member Erik Miller was on leave, and not available for comment by press time.
Elyssa Taylor-Stewart talked about the success of Black achievement programs, and the positive impact of HBCU tours and events.
Taylor-Stewart, administrator with LBUSD Office of Equity, Engagement, and Partnerships, also praised the 2022 Sankofa Summer Academy for outstanding staff that engaged 90 students in third, fourth and fifth graders to culturally relevant, restorative justice practices and programming on Black excellence.
There, students also learned the African roots of stepping patterns used by Black sororities and fraternities, connected with Black artists from City Hearts of Los Angeles, and an African drumming workshop. They played and performed with Baba from the African American Cultural Center of Long Beach.
It provided a way for students to be excited about education.
“And as we said, Sankofa [is] reaching back, bringing forward, this is what we need in our school district. And I’m grateful to each and every one of you for supporting this work. And I know we’re going to see more of it,” she said.
To see Edsource test results as part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, see https://bit.ly/3FNTyHO