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LAUSD leaders need to confront racism in schools, UCLA educator says

Mike Szymanski | October 11, 2016



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UCLA’s Tyrone Howard addresses board members on ways to avoid racism and stereotypes.

Racism and stereotypes continue to plague LA Unified, and it’s up to leaders to change that, according to a UCLA professor who is holding seminars at some schools.

Tyrone C. Howard, associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA’s graduate school of education and information studies, spoke to the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee on Tuesday about how he is helping principals and teachers understand how to identify underlying racism and avoid enforcing stereotypes on their students. He said that initiating this difficult dialogue is among the steps needed to help persistently low-performing students, particularly African-American and poor children.

“Bias is real and discrimination is rampant,” Howard told the committee, made up of four school board members, administrators and representatives of some of the major school unions. “People don’t want to talk about race because it is not the politically correct thing to do. If we don’t talk about race, then we ignore one aspect of who they are as young people.”

He added, “Even teachers of color have biases against students of color. Lots of students feel like they have two strikes against them when they walk into a classroom because they are black or brown and poor and the teacher feels they can’t succeed.”

Every administrator and school board member will receive a copy of Howard’s book “Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms,” and some schools will get personal training by Howard, said Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson.

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“We have a bold mission, and Tyrone Howard is an esteemed educator,” Gipson said, noting that some of his philosophies about understanding racial complexity “will intimidate some educators.”

Howard held a two-hour session last week with teachers at Cleveland High School in Reseda to discuss stereotypes and where those ideas come from in people’s lives. “It is going through a process of recognizing implicit bias and how we are all affected by it in one shape or form,” Howard said.

He suggested that requiring ethnic studies classes and emphasizing early literacy are also important steps to helping black and Latino students.

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Frances Gipson

“We are one of the most racially diverse cities in the world, and we have the momentum and will and need to start having those conversations,” Howard said.

Howard, who grew up in poverty in Compton, said he would not have succeeded unless teachers put aside racial biases and saw his potential.

Howard said the district is moving in the right direction. He pointed out that 42 percent of students are now making a C or better in the A-G classes, twice what it was a decade ago. But he also noted African-American and Latino students make up more than 60 percent of California’s population but less than 25 percent of the UC system. And under-represented minority groups have not experienced substantial increases in college-going rates.

“We have to tell the narratives and promote things that are moving in the right direction on an ongoing basis,” he said. “We have to be frank and honest that African-American students lag seriously behind others and that it continues to happen. We also have to dismantle the belief that poor kids cannot succeed.”

School board President Steve Zimmer praised Howard for his books and as well as for his seminars at Cleveland High. Zimmer recalled a mentor explaining how a school with 98 percent Latino and African-American enrollment and with 90 percent minority teachers can still be considered a “white supremacist school,” and that changed his mindset about “deep and intentional deficit mindset and how pervasive it is.”

Zimmer asked for suggestions of what they could do, saying, “We don’t legislate hearts and minds, but we do set the direction.”

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From Tyrone Howard’s presentation.

Howard said, “The issues about race are the big pink elephant in the room.” He said that educators need to understand the trauma that some students face outside the classroom.

“There is an impact of poverty, bullying, displacement, and many do not have the psychological support services they need,” Howard said. “Leadership is key here.” He said some principals don’t know how to deal with the issue with certain teachers.

Howard also said that support workers such as secretaries, nurses and janitors must all be on board to understand racism. “If we could cultivate that approach into the entire school culture there’s a lot of promise in the communities, but there are a lot who have written them off and that has to stop.”

Howard added, “The political craziness that’s going on doesn’t help. But I want to believe that most folks want to see what’s right for our children.”

Board member Richard Vladovic, who chairs the committee, said, “This has been really invigorating and good food for thought. We will move on it.”

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