Our mission is to engage, educate, and activate public school parents to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their schools, in their communities, with elected representatives, and at the ballot box.
I am a mother of two children, and my oldest child was diagnosed with autism ten years ago this year. Like many parents with children who have autism, my family is African-American, and thus we have a culturally unique experience with disability. It was my family’s experience at the intersection of disability and race that led me to my current research as a Ph.D. student in the anthropology department at UCLA. My work centers on African-American parents of children with autism and the health care and autism service disparities that affect this population and that have a far-reaching impact in the classroom and beyond.
Disparities in autism care begin with the diagnostic process within the medical system. Several recent academic public health studies have shown that African-American children are under-diagnosed compared to White American children. “White children are about 19 percent more likely than Black children…to be diagnosed with autism,” according to the Spectrum News, and Black children are also diagnosed later. “As a result, African American children may require longer and more intensive intervention,” which winds up costing far more.
Black children are misdiagnosed more often than White children. ADHD, adjustment disorder, and conduct disorder are among the most common misdiagnoses. This may help explain the seeming contradiction between the fact that African American kids are under-diagnosed for autism but are over-identified for special education services at LAUSD. Misdiagnosis can result in school placement and services that are inappropriate for children with autism.
Public education is full of buzzwords, used individually or strung together into slogans. Nowhere is this public-relations practice more evident than in the Los Angeles Unified School District. You’re always hearing and seeing them: Student Achievement, School Safety, Transparency, Accountability, I Love LAUSD and, most recently, Kids First.
Another popular slogan often tossed around is Parent Engagement. This sounds wonderfully warm and fuzzy when it’s mentioned at Back to School Night, in a PTA meeting or at an orientation session for school volunteers. The term conjures up visions of bake sales, field-trip chaperoning, helping teachers in classrooms, working with the principal to hammer out next year’s budget, and all the things we usually associate with being an involved parent at our child’s school.
While some school principals understand the tremendous value of proactively engaging their students’ parents on campus, many don’t. Whether it’s due to inexperience as a school leader or a wrongheaded philosophy that parents are a potential problem to be controlled, the belief among some administrators that they don’t need or want to parents to fully participate in the education of their children is unfortunately pervasive throughout LAUSD.
So it’s no surprise that as administrators rise through the District ranks to positions of increasing authority, their mixed feelings about parent engagement continue to influence their actions and decisions. This same uncertainty affects the trio of District-level parent committees: the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), the District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) and the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC).
Members of these committees are recruited from schools all over LAUSD, and while they come with the best of intentions to volunteer their time in the hope of helping the District improve their own kids’ education and the education of all students, often they find that their contributions are not valued and appreciated in the way they expected.
Speak UP joined Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) and student leaders at Palisades High Wednesday at a drive to register and pre-register nearly 200 students on campus to vote in less than an hour.
Melvoin told the students he would like to see the voting age lowered to 16 or 17 and the voting process made easier for everyone. “We should have early voting. We should have online voting,” Melvoin said. “Voting should be a national holiday. We should have to opt out of voting.”
He also explained the importance of voting in local elections, such as school Board races, not just in high-profile national elections. “I’m proud to say I have never missed an election in my life. It is our civic duty,” Melvoin said. “The most radical thing you can do is not walk out of class or dye your hair or protest. The most radical thing you can do it vote.”
Student leaders Amir Ebtehadj, Eli Safaie-Kia and Deven Radfar organized dozens of students to help register their classmates.
“What we have to remember is that 16-, 17-, 18- year olds, we can make a difference,” Ebtehadj told the crowd of students. “We have the ability to make change.”
Speak UP hopes to conduct more voter registration drives at other Los Angeles high schools in coming weeks.
Speak UP has launched a Spanish language website and Facebook page dedicated to serving Spanish-speaking parents in Los Angeles and California. All of Speak UP’s content, including Board Watch, will be delivered in Spanish, and the voices and issues of Spanish-speaking parents will be highlighted in blogs and videos.
“We are excited to expand our outreach to parents whose primary language is Spanish. In a school district and state that is home to so many Spanish-speaking families, it has always been our goal to provide Spanish-language content that will help them stay informed of issues critical to achieving an excellent, equitable public education,” said Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude.
The Spanish website and Facebook launch follows the expansion of Speak UP’s parent engagement team across all LAUSD Board Districts, including the recent hiring of three parent engagement coordinators who are fluent in Spanish.
A system-wide model of Collaboration has the potential to be a win-win for the district and teachers. Teachers get freedom, and the district gets results that stem from the peer accountability this model creates. And as for parents -- who are forced to navigate this fractious war over how to improve public education – they get a détente so we can all focus on the kids.
When schools officially adopt a PLC culture, accountability infuses every aspect of the school, from contracts to schedules. Teachers have the clearly defined responsibility of documenting how well students are progressing with the curriculum and sharing their findings every week or two. If a teacher shows up to meetings empty handed, everyone notices, helps and/or pushes back. So while districts, unions and reformers work through the difficult process of creating a holistic teacher evaluation system, this model can create a quiet peer accountability that is both effective and uncontroversial.
The mission of Speak UP is to engage, educate and activate parents and community members to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their children’s schools, in their communities, with elected representatives and at the ballot box.
La misión de Speak UP es involucrar, educar y activar a los padres y miembros de la comunidad para abogar en las escuelas de sus hijos, en sus comunidades, con representantes electos y en las urnas por una educación pública excelente y equitativa.