The federal government has targeted the Los Angeles Unified School District for its first major investigation under a reinvigorated Office for Civil Rights, The Times has learned.
The probe will focus on services to students learning English, who make up a third of the enrollment in the nation’s second-largest school system.
Federal analysts will review how English learners are identified and when they are judged fluent enough to handle regular course work. They’ll examine whether English learners have qualified, appropriately trained teachers. And they’ll look at how teachers make math and science understandable for students with limited-English skills — and how a school provides extra help for those struggling the most. Reviewers also will see if the district communicates effectively with parents in a language they understand.
The inquiry was prompted primarily by the low academic achievement of English learners; about 3 in 100 are proficient in math and English at the high school level, federal officials said. Focusing on L.A. Unified also makes sense because it has so many English learners, they said.
The Office for Civil Rights, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, is charged with enforcing laws that protect students from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin and disability status.
“This is about helping kids receive a good education, the education they deserve,” said Russlynn Ali, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights. “This is about raising the bar and closing the achievement gap.”
L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he welcomed the probe as an outside evaluation that would help the district identify and expand successful programs.
“And if there are egregious areas of misconduct by the district I will move on it immediately,” said Cortines, who became superintendent 15 months ago.
He added that district probably ranks “above average” compared to other school systems in programs for English learners. But that’s not nearly good enough, he added.
“I don’t think we have done well in making sure our young people continue to develop both written and oral language,” he said.