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Students at La Salle Avenue Elementary listen to a class presentation. The school is one of 53 schools in the first tier of the Black Student Achievement Plan.

KATE SEQUEIRA/EDSOURCE

Students at La Salle Avenue Elementary listen to a class presentation. The school is one of 53 schools in the first tier of the Black Student Achievement Plan.

Students at La Salle Avenue Elementary listen to a class presentation. The school is one of 53 schools in the first tier of the Black Student Achievement Plan.

Growing up, Lindsey Weatherspoon was used to attending largely Black elementary and middle schools. But at Venice High School, where she is now a junior, the student body is just 13% Black.

 Though it’s a significant Black population for a high school in Los Angeles Unified, she’s still one of the few Black students in many of her classes. And creating a sense of community in high school wasn’t as easy as she believes it should’ve been. So she felt encouraged when the district announced it would be launching a plan known as the Black Student Achievement Plan to provide socio-emotional and academic support to its Black students.

Under that program, schools with sizable Black student populations — at least 200 students — are supposed to have a BSAP team of counselors, climate advocates and psychiatric social workers, though some positions remain unfilled. The first two rounds of funding were given to 110 elementary, middle and high schools. 

“When we’re talking to them, and they’re telling us how they went to college and where they went and all the things that they went through and how hard they worked, it’s very encouraging,” Weatherspoon said of the Venice High team, which she’s found to be strong role models.

However, now two years after the launch of the Black Student Achievement Plan, critics say there’s still much work to be done by LAUSD and its schools. A survey conducted by the Police Free Coalition, a community group that is pushing for more funding for the initiative, showed overwhelming support for it among students, but that much of the money has gone unspent and the quality of implementation varies across the schools involved. Some programs appear to be thriving while other schools haven’t done much with the funds.

Even many supporters say it’s too early to evaluate whether the initiative is succeeding.

The push to dedicate more funding and resources toward LAUSD’s Black students mirrors that of state-level efforts to close academic disparities affecting the state’s lowest-performing racial and ethnic group.

According to 2022 Smarter Balanced test results, only 30% of Black students are meeting English language arts standards and 16% are meeting math standards, compared with 47% and 33%, respectively, for all students statewide. At LAUSD, 31% of Black students met English language arts standards and 17% met math standards.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed concerns that dedicating additional funding directly toward Black students would violate Proposition 209, the voter-approved measure that does not allow race-based funding or affirmative action by race or ethnicity in college admissions. Instead, Newsom’s team has offered a workaround labeled the equity multiplier, which assures additional funding for the state’s highest-poverty schools. 

An LAUSD spokesperson credited the BSAP with an increase in the number of Black kindergartners meeting primary literacy skill standards between 2021 and 2022. Those meeting standards in first and second grade remained at about the same level. The district also credited BSAP with the increase in Black students graduating and completing A-G requirements last year. In 2022, 87% of Black students graduated, up from 79% the year before, and 46% completed the A-G requirements, up from 40% the year before.

“The Black Student Achievement Plan brings the lived experiences of Black families to the instructional planning and aligns Los Angeles Unified efforts to improve teaching and learning for Black students,” the district wrote in a statement. 

The program is “providing culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy and fostering an equity driven education.”

A coalition of students and advocates is pushing LAUSD to defund its school police department completely and use those funds to further expand support for Black students. It’s a renewed effort after a push in 2020 that led the school board to fund the Black Student Achievement Plan in part by cutting the police budget by more than 30%.

In LAUSD, which has boundaries extending 720 square miles across the city of Los Angeles and its neighboring cities, Black students comprise about 8% of total enrollment. The Black Student Achievement Plan, which was launched in 2021, has provided additional funding to eligible schools across the district. Throughout the last two years, funding for the initiative has totaled $117.2 million, including the funds from the police budget and other sources. 

LAUSD did not comment on whether it was concerned that BSAP violates Proposition 209.

Each school is required to use funds toward academics, socio-emotional and safety efforts to create a more supportive learning environment for its Black students. The 53 schools with the highest Black enrollment are categorized as Group One schools and together enroll a third of the entire Black student population in the district. They receive the most funding, followed by the 57 in Group Two, which accounts for 30% of the Black student population and receives slightly less funding. 

According to the Police Free Coalition survey, nearly 40% of funding for the program remained unspent after the first year. LAUSD did not respond to EdSource questions about BSAP funds or the survey’s findings. 

Despite a significant portion of the funding still not being spent, students and community advocates are pushing for more funding. Christian Flagg, who’s worked on the Black Student Achievement Plan on behalf of the Community Coalition, said it was important to increase the funding to ensure a solid infrastructure can be established. 

UCLA education professor Tyrone Howard commended LAUSD for taking the steps toward creating the program and said it was still too early to truly evaluate its effectiveness. He said that it was important that critics give it time just as they would any other program or new initiative. Still, he said, that didn’t mean that the achievement plan shouldn’t be held accountable as it develops.

“I just think we have to continue to monitor this and not have a blind eye, assuming that it’s going to work because there’s a program in place,” Howard said. “We have to continue to monitor it and assess and evaluate.”

It hasn’t been an easy process for all the schools, which are also dealing with staffing shortages. Weatherspoon was hoping to take Venice High School’s ethnic studies course next year, but she said she was told it might not run because the class doesn’t have a teacher. This year, she said, it’s been led largely by substitute teachers.

“The dream would be to have African American studies and ethnic studies at the school but have a constant teacher that’s not only one period,” Weatherspoon said.

Implementation of the Black Student Achievement Plan has also been rocky because of its dependence on schools to make individual efforts to push it forward, according to Flagg. He said he’s seen some schools take the work more seriously than others. He is urging LAUSD to provide more direction for schools to ensure the funding is used effectively.

“The district has to do a lot of work to make sure it’s more evenly done,” Flagg said. “Identifying best practices and then supporting schools and actually utilizing them.”

Though he considers the initiative to still be in its beginning stages, he said he’s seen some schools effectively take advantage of the funding so far. He pointed to Dorsey High School as an example of community partnerships, West Athens Elementary School as an example of academic efforts and Hamilton High School as an example of strong counseling.

For Hamilton High School senior Cailey Phlegm, the Black Student Achievement plan has provided her with the extra push she needed. She’s involved in a program course that allows her to interact with BSAP counselors three days a week. The constant contact has helped her decide to switch her upcoming college major and career goal from music business to film production.

“I really didn’t know how to articulate to her what I wanted to do in my future,” Phlegm said. “So, on top of me not being able to tell her what I wanted, she was still able to decipher and look through the internet and find things to help me, even though I wasn’t able to do it for myself.”

BSAP counselor Lisa Lewis said she checks in on her 200-student caseload every five weeks to make sure they are on track to graduate and keeping their grades up. She said the job isn’t too different from what she experienced as an academic counselor but that focusing on the Black student population specifically has allowed her to connect more with those who need guidance.

“There’s three Black counselors — three out of the nine,” Lewis said. “I think it’s made a difference. The students have people that they can relate to.”

Still, students echoed that benefiting from the Black Student Achievement Plan was also largely dependent on students accessing the resources themselves.

“A lot of students are kind of still figuring it out,” Hamilton High School senior Kamal Chatman said. “Some students are really just focused on themselves, and they don’t really know that they have these resources. And it’s not that BSAP doesn’t tell us or anything. It’s just the fact that they have to reach out for these resources themselves.” 

Chatman has found the Black Student Achievement Plan rewarding. He feels like there is more accountability for him and his peers, and he has been able to build a better connection with his achievement plan counselor than with his usual academic counselors in the past.

“They don’t let me fall off,” he said, laughing. “I for sure have the support. They’re always checking in. They’re always very supportive, and I do appreciate that because not every staff member is like that.”

Yet another expensive and ineffective plan. And when it fails the standard “we need more time and money” pleas are peddled. Isn’t 50 years or more of the same failed programs and instructions enough? Isn’t $128 Billion enough for fewer than 6 million students? When will the public education system recognize it piles failure on top of failure without any true correction? Isn’t it time to focus on research-based curricula and effective teaching methods rather than racial … Read More

Yet another expensive and ineffective plan.

And when it fails the standard “we need more time and money” pleas are peddled.

Isn’t 50 years or more of the same failed programs and instructions enough? Isn’t $128 Billion enough for fewer than 6 million students? When will the public education system recognize it piles failure on top of failure without any true correction?

Isn’t it time to focus on research-based curricula and effective teaching methods rather than racial mongering, removing sign of merit from education and doubling down on discovery learning and whole-language still used and defended in California?

First thing when you’re in a hole is to stop digging.

This content was originally published here.