Oakland Policy on Ebonics




On December 18, 1996 the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education

approved a policy affirming Standard American English language development

for all students. This policy mandates that effective instructional

strategies must be utilized in order to ensure that every child has the

opportunity to achieve English language proficiency. Language development

for African American students, who comprise 53% of the students in the

Oakland schools, will be enhanced with the recognition and understanding of

the language structures unique to African American students. This language

has been studied for several decades and is variously referred to as Ebonics

(literally "Black sounds"), or "Pan-African Communication Behaviors," or

"African Language Systems."

This policy is based on the work of a broad-based Task Force, convened six

months ago to review the district-wide achievement data (see Appendix 1) and

to make recommendations regarding effective practices that would enhance the

opportunity for all students to successfully achieve the standards of the

core curriculum (see Appendix 2). The data show low levels of student

performance, disproportionately high representation in special education,

and under-representation in Advanced Placement courses, and in the Gifted

and Talented Education Program. The recommendations (see Appendix 3), based

on academic research, focus on the unique language stature of African

American pupils, the direct connection of English language proficiency to

student achievement, and the education of parents and the community to

support academic achievement (see bibliography in Appendix 4).

One of the programs recommended is the Standard English Proficiency Program

(S.E.P.), a State of California model program, which promotes

English-language development for African-American students. The S.E.P.

training enables teachers and administrators to respect and acknowledge the

history, culture, and language that the African American student brings to

school. Recently a "Superliteracy" component was added to ensure the

development of high levels of reading, writing, and speaking skills. The

policy further requires strengthening pre-school education and parent and

community participation in the educational processes of the District.

The recommendations of the Task Force establish English language proficiency

as the foundation for competency in all academic areas. Passage of this

policy is a clear demonstration that the Oakland Unified School District is

committed to take significant actions to turn around the educational

attainment of its African-American students.

Oakland's Standard: English

The Board of Education adopted a policy on teaching English, not Ebonics.

Unfortunately, because of misconceptions in the resulting press stories, the

actions of the Board of Education have been publically misunderstood.

Misconceptions include:

*Oakland School District has decided to teach Ebonics in place of English.

*The District is trying to classify Ebonics (i.e. "Black English,")

speaking students as Bilingual

*OUSD is only attempting to pilfer federal and state funds

*OUSD is trying to create a system of perverse incentives that reward

failure and lower standards

*Oakland is condoning the use of Slang

*Oakland has gone too far

*Ebonics further segregates an already racially divided school district

*There is no statistical evidence to support this approach or that this

approach will improve student achievement

Nothing could be further from the truth.

1. The Oakland Unified School District is not replacing the teaching of

Standard American English with any other language.

The District is not teaching Ebonics.

The District emphasizes teaching Standard American English and has set a

high standard of excellence for all its students.

2. The Oakland Unified School District is providing its teachers and parents

with the tools to address the diverse languages the children bring into the


3. The District's objective is to build on the language skills that

African-American students bring to the classroom without devaluing students

and their diversity.

We have directly connected English language proficiency to student achievement.

4. The term "genetically-based" is synonomous with genesis. In the

clause, "African Language Systems are genetically based and not a dialect

of English," the term "genetically based" is used according to the standard

dictionary definition of "has origins in." It is not used to refer to human



*53% of the total Oakland Unified School District's enrollment of 51,706

is African American.

*71% of the students enrolled in Special Education were African American.

*37% of the students enrolled in GATE classes were African American.

*64% of students retained were African American.

*67% of students classified as truant were African American.

*71% of African American males attend school on a regular basis.

*19% of the 12th grade African American students did not graduate.

*80% of all suspended students were African American.

*1.80 average GPA of African American students represents the lowest GPA

in the district.



Grade 1: All students will read and perform mathematics at grade level.

Grade 3: All students will read at grade level, have mastery of

mathematical operations, and compose written works on a computer.

Grade 5: All students will meet or exceed the fifth grade standards for

the core curriculum in Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and

Social Science.

Grade 8: All students will be able to read and engage with complex and

diverse literature, conduct a research project and write a

scholarly paper on that research, perform mathematics at a level

required to enroll in Algebra, organize and participate in

community service and social events, and utilize technology as a

tool for learning and work.

Grade 10: All students will successfully complete college required

coursework in English, Math, and Science, and will enroll in a

career academy or program.

Grade 12: All students will successfully complete courses required for

entrance into a college or university, meet the requirements for

an entry level career position, and develop and defend a senior



The recommendations, based on identified conditions and outcomes, are

aligned with the Content Standards adopted by OUSD, pre-kindergarten -12th

grades, 1996-1997.

It is the consensus of the African American Task Force that the African

American students' language needs have not been fully addressed.

This report addresses the language needs of African American students as

one of the nine major areas of recommendations to be implemented by OUSD.

African American students shall develop English language proficiency as the foundation for their achievements in all core competency areas.

All existing programs shall be implemented fully to enhance the achievements of African American students.

The Task Force on the Education of African American Students shall be retained in order to assist OUSD in developing workplans and implementation strategies.

Financial commitments shall be made to implement the Task Force

on the Education of African American Students recommendations during the current fiscal year.

The district's identification and assessment criteria for GATE and Special Education Programs shall be reviewed.

The community shall be mobilized to partner with OUSD to achieve recommended outcomes.

OUSD shall develop a policy which requires all categorical and general program funding to be used to ensure access to and mastery of the core curriculum.

All resources of the district shall be applied and used to ensure

that these recommendations be implemented.

OUSD shall develop recruitment procedures that facilitate the hiring of administrators, teachers, counselors and support staff that reflect the culture of African American students composition of the student population.

"Black children are the proxy for what ails American education in general.

And so, as we fashion solutions which help Black children, we fashion

solutions which help all children." The Honorable Augustus F. Hawkins


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