For decades, progressives have attributed black students’ low academic skills to school underfunding. Attend any graduate education program or sit in on any legislative hearing, and you will hear that stingy white taxpayers deny majority-black schools the financial resources necessary to close the academic achievement gap. Americans are to imagine cash-starved inner-city classrooms that would make a prairie schoolhouse look luxurious—teachers forced to ration textbooks, students lacking pencils and paper, harried principals drowning in administrative duties due to the lack of staff.
A recently announced initiative from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the public school system in Los Angeles County, is a good place to test the underfunding theory. February 5, 2024, will mark the start of a district-wide “Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.” (Previous LAUSD “weeks of action” have included a week in October 2023 organized around “National Coming Out Day.”) The district has distributed a teacher “toolkit” of suggestions for conducting the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, compiled, as the toolkit notes, by the district’s “SMH,” “BSAP,” and “HRDE.”
Here is our first clue for assessing the underfunding theory: any bureaucracy that slaps acronyms on its component parts is not a bare-bones organization. The names of its innumerable departmental byways must be abbreviated, lest they take up too much space in print or in speech.
“SMH,” “BSAP,” and “HRDE” stand for the district’s School Mental Health bureaucracy, its Black Student Achievement Plan bureaucracy, and its Human Rights, Diversity and Equity bureaucracy. The HRDE bureaucracy is itself part of the Student Health and Human Services bureaucracy. Possessors of these sinecures are hidden from sight, far from the classroom. Funding such offices requires princely sums; the BSAP just received an additional $26 million in 2023, on top of its existing budget. The BSAP bankrolls counselors, climate advocates, and psychiatric social workers to work with black students in “high priority” schools. It doles out “Innovation Capacity-Building” grants of up to $100,000 to entities that promise to improve black achievement.
Any school system that can afford climate advocates (as part of a black uplift plan, no less) is not hurting for taxpayer dollars. Any school system that runs a massive system of subcontracting for “psychiatric social workers” and “counselors” is not hurting for taxpayer dollars. Such a system has more money than it knows what to do with. Indeed, the LAUSD budget for the 2022–23 school year was $20 billion—more than that of some nations. Divide that pot among the district’s 397,623 K-12 students, and taxpayers are paying the equivalent of an Ivy League tuition—over $50,000—for every student, every year. Add “clients” in other functions that the LAUSD has embraced— early education centers, infant centers, and adult education—and the district spends a still-lavish $35,341 per student.
The LAUSD is not underfunded. It is overfunded. The reasons for student failure lie elsewhere than in allegedly inadequate resources.
The Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action suggests one of those reasons. Its goal is to have every member of a school affirm and celebrate “blackness.” Though the prep materials only intermittently acknowledge that not everyone in a school may be black, someone in that unfortunate situation can at least sign on to allyship with blacks.
Each day of the action week is organized around various daily messages. Monday is for restorative justice, Tuesday for diversity and globalism, and Wednesday for the LAUSD’s current favorite topic: how to be “queer affirming” and “transgender affirming.” The toolkit advises elementary school teachers to “do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk.” They should inform five-year-olds of their rights: “Everyone gets to choose if they are a girl or a boy or both or neither or something else, and no one else gets to choose for them.” Parents, in other words, are a potential impediment to the goal of being “trans affirming,” and young children should be steeled against any such parental interference.
Throughout the week, students are encouraged at lunch to respond to the “prompts” that the teachers have erected around the classroom. These prompts might ask students whether they know anyone who is “critical of the Black Lives Matter movement or responds in a negative, defensive way.” The toolkit is silent on whether students should name the names of those counterrevolutionaries.
Thursday’s Daily Message concerns “Intergenerational Black Families & Black Villages.” Students in the elementary grades might stage a march and rally around these themes, aimed to “disrupt Western nuclear family dynamics.”
Given black Americans’ 70 percent illegitimacy rate, disrupting “Western nuclear family dynamics” scarcely seems worth the effort. But the LAUSD apparently aims for a complete cessation of marriage in the black community. Accordingly, Friday’s theme includes “Black Women,” but no black fathers. Boys, black or otherwise, get no recognition during the week of action, unless they happen to be “nonmasculine.”
The Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action is a sartorial train wreck. Following the district’s daily dress suggestions will take a large wardrobe, a personal assistant to keep track of the changing dress injunctions, and a waiver from the cultural-appropriation police. Monday is “All Black Day,” in which students are supposed to wear “all Black in solidarity of [sic] Black students and families.” Tuesday is “Favorite Historic or Famous Black Person [Day],” during which students are to dress as a “Black person that [sic] inspires you.” Friday is “Black Excellence [Day]” in which students “dress for success.” If a student does not have an all-black outfit, is she supposed to procure one so as not to be stigmatized as insufficiently “black-supportive” on Monday’s All Black Day? The students will have no shortage of “Famous Black Persons” to be inspired by, thanks to the black-centric LAUSD curriculum. But how exactly did that roster of allegedly famous black scientists, inventors, and statesmen distinctively dress?
Besides celebrating “black excellence” on Friday, elementary and secondary students are also supposed to take “solidarity pledges” to oppose racism and injustice. As with the Cultural Revolution, the goal is indoctrination into an official political creed. Revolutionary iconography is seeded throughout the teacher prep materials—a coloring book with images of raised fists; a photo of female preschoolers (three black and one white) holding Black Lives Matter signs and wearing T-shirts with a clenched fist inside the female biological icon. Three older black students are photographed throwing gang signs and jutting their chins out to the camera, eyes half closed, in classic ghetto attitude.
When the LAUSD board initiated the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action in 2020, board members embraced an explicitly activist agenda. “Uplifting every one of our students requires discussing the ongoing social injustice and racial bias in our society and how we can be agents of change,” said the board president. Another board member insisted: “We can only overcome this country’s history of racism by calling it out and making the necessary changes to provide justice for our black students.”
But not everyone agrees that social injustice and racial bias are “ongoing” in our society. The board presents as uncontested truth what is in fact a contested interpretation of social reality. Racial disparities in representation are more persuasively explained today by an oppositional culture that works against personal responsibility. Even the most glancing look around our present world reveals institution after institution exercising racial preferences in favor of blacks. Managers’ bonuses are regularly tied to the number of blacks whom the managers promote. Faculty hiring searches involve strenuous efforts to find remotely qualified black candidates. If racial proportionality in meritocratic institutions remains elusive, it is not implausible to blame academic skills and bourgeois behavior gaps. Those gaps mean that there will not be a proportional number of competitively qualified blacks in the hiring pipeline, absent double standards of achievement.
These are open questions at the least. The LAUSD has no mandate to adopt one side of a complicated debate about matters beyond its official purview. It has even less of a mandate to enroll children in an activist crusade. Doing so is an abuse of power. The LAUSD exists to make sure that students are sufficiently literate and numerate to hold down a job and to raise a family. It exists to pass on knowledge of U.S. and world history, told with as little political spin as possible; to fill students’ ears and eyes with the beauty of artistic creation; and to expose them to the wonders of science. But even as the district fails in those tasks, it beefs up its social justice bureaucracies to forge the next generation of self-identifying victims.
The district would respond that black students cannot close the achievement gap unless they are given more self-esteem. Yet the self-esteem movement was discredited at its origins. Black male students proved to have the highest levels of self-esteem, even though they rank at the bottom of academic skills. Asian students have the lowest self-esteem, though they trounce their non-Asian peers. No matter. The movement has persisted. The BLMSWA, like other efforts throughout the school year, perpetuates in black students the belief that everyone owes them tribute simply for existing. But being black is not an accomplishment, just as being female or being gay are not accomplishments. The only real academic accomplishment is mastery of a body of knowledge. Pride should come from achievement, not from grievance.
Black students in the LAUSD are indeed disastrously behind. In 2023, a little under 19 percent of black students in the district met California’s bare-bones math standards, compared with 24 percent of Hispanics, 55 percent of whites, and 71 percent of Asian students. Only 30 percent of black students met the English standards, compared with 35 percent of Hispanic students, 65 percent of white students, and close to 77 percent of Asian students.
Such academic disparities are explained, above all, by family culture. They will not change unless inner-city culture changes. Parents must take responsibility for the education of their children. In 2021–2022, 52 percent of black kindergartners in California were chronically absent, putting a large obstacle in the way of their future learning. That dereliction falls squarely on parents’ shoulders. Over half of black students in all grades were chronically absent in the LAUSD in 2021–2022. By contrast, a little over 11 percent of Asian students are chronically absent statewide. Naturally, the California legislature is sending a new gusher of taxpayer dollars—$25 billion—to the schools to fight this truancy. The money will be dedicated to “social emotional development, trauma, and basic needs,” in the words of the Los Angeles County superintendent.
It’s up to parents to make sure that their children are not running the streets. Parents have to cultivate in their offspring a commitment to hard work and self-discipline. Schools can jumpstart those traits by upholding a single standard of achievement, a single standard of behavior, and an unrelenting focus on basic skills. Moreover, celebrating one racial group at the expense of others is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Despite the district’s perennial demands, more funding will not shrink the skills gap. (Money has little connection in any case to student achievement. Log cabin schoolhouses were where American schoolchildren in the nineteenth century absorbed large tranches of Anglo-American oratory and history. Technology-deprived, minimalist instruction in Europe—lacking even individual student iPads!—did not impede the development of calculus, chemistry, and engineering, or the emergence of world-changing authors like John Milton.)
The chance that the LAUSD will discard its left-wing agenda is almost zero. Parents should get their kids out as quickly as possible. Home schooling and classical academies need more philanthropic support. Extant schools are now a failure machine when it comes to creating educated citizens but a resounding success when it comes to perpetuating resentment. The ideology that schools inject into students from the youngest ages guarantees a country filled with racial tension, routinely flaring into racial violence. It guarantees a perpetual assault on any remaining colorblind meritocratic standards that stand in the way of racial proportionality.
The current focus on universities and their anti-Western ideology is overdue—but more and more freshmen arrive on college campuses already steeped in intersectionality and race consciousness, thanks to initiatives like Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. It’s time to shut the system down.