US Education Department launches review of LAUSD’s English Language Learner programs

Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks about education reform during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Friday, May 29, 2009. Duncan said this is a time of educational crisis, as well as economic crisis, and that we will have to educate our way to a better economy.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks about education reform during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Friday, May 29, 2009. Duncan said this is a time of educational crisis, as well as economic crisis, and that we will have to educate our way to a better economy. AP Photo

The federal Education Department has launched a compliance review of LA Unified School District’s programs for students whose first language is not English. The Department’s office of Civil Rights wants to determine if the District is denying those students equal access to education opportunities.

The LA Unified School District serves 11 percent of the English Language Learner students in the nation’s public schools. Only 3 percent of the English Learner students in LA Unified’s high schools are proficient in English and Math. Assistant Secretary of Education Russlyn Ali said those numbers warrant a look at whether the District’s programs comply with federal civil rights law

"To be clear, we have reached no conclusion on whether any violations of federal law exist," Ali said at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles.

She said the investigation could take months and will focus not just on whether the district’s programs are effective at teaching non-English speaking students the language, but giving them access to the rest of LA Unified’s curriculum.

"We will examine the District’s practices for monitoring students over time, its interventions to help students and catch them before they begin to slip."

LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines joined Ali at the news conference to say he welcomed the scrutiny. Cortines said he believes the inquiry will uncover some best practices in some parts of the district.

"But I also believe, because I know the data says, we are not consistent across the district" said Cortines. "There are many children and young people falling through the cracks."

Assistant Secretary Russlyn Ali agreed that some of LA Unified’s practices could serve as a model for other school districts. She expressed confidence that should the turn up any violations, Cortines would move quickly to fix them.

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