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March and Rally for Equity in Education: Parents of Black students in Berkeley public schools plan May 19 protest

May 19, 2014

Berkeley – A team of parents and supporting organizations announced today that they will march and rally on Malcolm X Day, May 19, 2014, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to support equity initiatives in public schools and protest unfair disciplinary actions and a culture of low expectations for Black children. The team is also pressing school districts to target the needs of Black students with new state funding pursuant to a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) with the aim of closing a longstanding achievement gap which particularly impacts African American students.

“A school bus picks up children at Washington Elementary School as part of Berkeley Unified School District’s desegregation effort” is the caption for this photo illustrating a story about the persistent achievement gap at BUSD published in the UC Berkeley student newspaper, the Daily Cal, in 2009. Since then, the Black student population at UC Berkeley has continued to plummet, jeopardizing coverage of issues critical to the Black community. – Photo: Karen Ling, Daily Californian

“A school bus picks up children at Washington Elementary School as part of Berkeley Unified School District’s desegregation effort” is the caption for this photo illustrating a story about the persistent achievement gap at BUSD published in the UC Berkeley student newspaper, the Daily Cal, in 2009. Since then, the Black student population at UC Berkeley has continued to plummet, jeopardizing coverage of issues critical to the Black community. – Photo: Karen Ling, Daily Californian

The protest will begin by gathering at UC Berkeley on Oxford Way and Allston Way at 11 a.m., followed by a march to the Berkeley school district’s headquarters at 2020 Bonar St. Organizers decided to start the march at UC Berkeley’s campus to call attention to the relatively small proportion of Bay Area Black high school graduates who are eligible to apply to schools within the University of California or California State University systems. In Berkeley’s public schools, for example, only 51 of 192 Black graduates were eligible to apply in 2012.

Despite Berkeley’s declared commitment to the “2020 Vision” to end racial disparities in public education, Black students receive a disproportionate share of disciplinary actions. Berkeley’s situation parallels national trends described in a recent report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

“I never expected that so many children would graduate unprepared or be treated so poorly in Berkeley. Berkeley did great things during the Civil Rights era: It was the first place in the country to integrate its schools voluntarily, and it worked hard to end racial discrimination in housing,” said Laura Babitt, a parent and event organizer.

“However, the common message I hear from students, parents and staff of all races today is that BUSD really doesn’t care about educating Black kids, or all kids. It’s about how they can promote the image. Scratch the surface of a program or announcement made by BUSD just a little bit, and you will quickly see the gaps between BUSD’s words and its actions.”

“I never expected that so many children would graduate unprepared or be treated so poorly in Berkeley. Berkeley did great things during the Civil Rights era: It was the first place in the country to integrate its schools voluntarily, and it worked hard to end racial discrimination in housing,” said Laura Babitt, a parent and event organizer.

On May 5, 2014, BUSD announced in its A+ newspaper that Black students at Berkeley High School are experiencing notable gains on the California Standards Test in Math and English Language Arts (ELA). BUSD also trumpeted high graduation rates for Black students.

“The truth is that less than 30 percent of Black students tested proficient in ELA and less than 10 percent were proficient in math. Overall scores increased 8 percent from 532 points in 2011 to 572 points in 2013, which is still 228 points below the state target of 800,” said Dru Howard, a parent and event organizer.

“How can BUSD report these gains as notable and boast about graduating a majority of Black students with Ds and D-s? Where are they graduating to?” said Barbara White, vice president of the NAACP in Berkeley. “BUSD must put policies, procedures, programs and funding in place in order to increase academic excellence for African American students and families.”

“This is why the White House has initiated an office of African American Student Achievement. If the White House needs one, surely our local school districts need one,” says Hodari Davis, director of Young Gifted and Black and national program director of Youth Speaks Inc.

On March 1, 2012, about 50 students, teachers, parents and community members embarked from Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland on a four-day “99-Mile March for Education and Social Justice” to the Capitol in Sacramento. Here they stop at Berkeley High School to speak out on such issues as the re-segregation of schools and massive budget cuts to all levels of public education. – Photo: Berkeley Unified School District

On March 1, 2012, about 50 students, teachers, parents and community members embarked from Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland on a four-day “99-Mile March for Education and Social Justice” to the Capitol in Sacramento. Here they stop at Berkeley High School to speak out on such issues as the re-segregation of schools and massive budget cuts to all levels of public education. – Photo: Berkeley Unified School District

PCAD, Parents of Children of African Descent, is advocating that the new Local Control and Accountability Plan include a director of African American Achievement, with support staff and a task force to monitor efforts to close the achievement gap.

“It’s clear that if the achievement gap is going to close, we must be the ones making sure it happens,” said Irma Parker, long time BUSD advocate for equity in results.

Event organizers are asking participants to march with umbrellas as a symbol of their commitment to support and protect students in public schools. Community members who can’t march are asked to come out of their homes and businesses to show support as the march passes on University Avenue between Oxford and Bonar Street. From 12 to 1 p.m. the rally will take place at 2020 Bonar St. Everyone who cares about equity in education is invited to participate.

“It’s clear that if the achievement gap is going to close, we must be the ones making sure it happens,” said Irma Parker, long time BUSD advocate for equity in results.

“We were pleased to learn that over 300 Los Angeles parents held a similar rally for equity in education in front of the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District in April,” said Debra Watkins, founder and executive director of the California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE). “Our children are learning in burning houses all over this state, so we must work towards real, systemic change and dispense with the window dressing!”

Event organizers include PCAD, CAAAE, California Association for Multicultural Counseling (CAMC), African American Regional Educational Alliance (AAREA), Young Gifted and Black (YGB), California School Counselors Association (CSCA) and the Berkeley NAACP.

Fast facts

  • In 2011, Black students made up 21 percent of total enrollment within Berkeley Unified School District yet experienced 72 percent of all in-school suspensions, 49 percent of all out-of-school suspensions and 44 percent of all expulsions. By contrast, White students made up 32 percent of enrollment but experienced only 5.6 percent of all in-school suspensions, 16 percent of all out-of-school suspensions and 11 percent of all expulsions (Source: U.S. Department of Education).
  • While the total number of suspensions in Berkeley elementary schools decreased sharply between 2010 and 2013, from 196 to 86, the total number of suspensions that were of African American students – who represent between 17 and 20 percent of primary school enrollment – increased from 53 percent in 2010-11 to 55 percent in 2011-12 to 70 percent in 2012-13. Over the same three-year period, total middle school suspensions in the district decreased from 419 to 225, yet the percentages of those suspensions that were for African American students held relatively steady, increasing from 67 percent to 69 percent and then declining to 61 percent. African American students make up a quarter of Berkeley middle school enrollment. Total suspensions in Berkeley high schools did not change appreciably during the period, with African American students accounting for about 56 percent of all suspensions despite representing less than a quarter of students enrolled (Source: Berkeley Unified School District).
  • Nearly one in five African American high school students in Berkeley was suspended at least once during the 2010-11 school year (Source: Western Association of Schools and Colleges).
  • In 2013, 46 percent of Berkeley special ed students were African American and 23 percent of all African American students had been placed in special education. Seven percent of non-African American students receive special education services. Fifty-five percent of all students enrolled in the Berkeley public schools who have been classified as emotionally disturbed are also African American (Source: PCAD).
  • In 2012, only 51 of the 192 African Americans graduating from Berkeley Unified Schools were eligible to apply to a California State University or University of California campus, which requires a C grade or better in a set of prerequisite classes (Source: PCAD).
  • Black students at almost every Berkeley public school score significantly below their peers on the standardized tests used in California. For example, at Berkeley’s Cragmont Elementary, White students scored 957 on average versus 725 by African American students, who score lower than students in every other category, including the socioeconomically disadvantaged, English language learners and students with disabilities. After White students, the next highest scores were for Asian students, at 893, and Hispanic students, at 791 (Source: GreatSchools.org).
  • White children represent nearly 49 percent of middle school algebra gifted and talented enrollment; Black children are 9 percent. Berkeley’s African American students are 2 percent of enrollment in physics; 57 percent of the physics students are White (Source: U.S. Department of Education).

Additional information

Parents of Children of African Descent: statistics, funding proposal

New York Times editorial dated 3/26/14, “Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds”

New York Times story dated 3/21/14, “School Data Finds Pattern of Inequality Along Racial Lines”

U.S. Department of Education, Civil Rights Data Collection database

Press Release from U.S. Department of Education dated 3/14/14, `”Expansive Survey of America’s Public Schools Reveals Troubling Racial Disparities; Lack of Access to Pre-School, Greater Suspensions Cited”

Western Association of Schools and Colleges 2012 Report

Link to PCAD’s 3-28-14 advisory

To learn more, contact Laura Babitt, executive board member of Parents of Children of African Descent (PCAD), at pcadparentconnection@gmail.com or 925-238-5239.

 

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