• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Feds examine LAUSD English learners program

March 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The federal government is taking aim at the L.A. Unified School District. The education department investigation will focus on whether the district provides adequate services to students learning English.The U.S. Department of Education sees two glaring problems that are converging. There are a high number of dropouts and there are a high number of English language learners. They're not saying that civil rights violations have occurred but they do want to know whether students are being denied equal opportunity.

Federal educators will target English learners like Cindy Hernandez. She started school at Woodcrest Elementary four years ago speaking only Spanish. Now, "I speak Spanish at home and English here," said Cindy.

Federal analysts estimate that a third of the districts' rosters are English learners which amount to more than 220,000 students. By the time they get into high school, their academic achievement is low. Only three in 100 are proficient in math and English. Few make it into college prep classes. The question from the U.S. Department of Education is whether practices unintentionally discriminate against English learners.

"We are losing more than a quarter of all students before graduation day and in many urban communities half or more students of color are dropping out of school," said Russlyn Ali, U.S. Department of Education.

Yet, LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines welcomes the probe.

"This is not something to be afraid. These and our children and our young people and they demand this if they are going to be part of the workforce and part of the problem solving," said Cortines.

The compliance review will examine multiple factors.

"How many of those students at the high school level are enrolled in advanced placement, honors courses and are being successful?" asked Cortines.

"I am not really good at math. My teacher says to study hard and if I study hard I will be good at it," said Cindy.

The investigators will also look at how well they communicate with parents, stressing the need to support student learning.

"The lessons learned can be modeled across the country for superintendents working with these student populations," said Ali.

The review will begin next week. The LAUSD superintendent says he wants to find out as soon as they make their findings what the shortcomings are and he will take the immediate steps to fix them.