Failing Schools Take The Show Online...

Just when I think LAUSD couldn't do anything more ridiculous than they already have, LAUSD administration never fails to surprise me by their ability to top themselves in terms of the absurdity of what they do next. As I was sitting around today wondering what I would write about, I get a  robo call from Chief Academic Officer Judy Elliot telling me that the great minds at LAUSD have come up with the City of Angels Virtual Academy School where students can make up any one of 12 classes in Algebra I, Geometry, 9th or 10th grade English, and World or U.S. History.

This joint venture of City of Angels Continuation School, the LAUSD Office of Curriculum and Instruction, Beyond the Bell, and the Education Technology departments will join with Ms. Elliot as the latest unrealistic panacea for addressing longstanding abject failure of public education at LAUSD. It has LAUSD's surrealistic modus operandi all over it:

1. It proposes no security regiment to assure that the students actually do their own work or get by with a little help from their friends or teachers who are more and more terrified of losing their jobs if their students don't pass.
2. It assumes that students with elementary school reading abilities and little knowledge of math can somehow get through secondary core courses that these students have already shown by their previous failure is way beyond their subjective abilities.
3. Fails to ask the foundational question as to why students who have little or no relevant English language skills or relevant foundational math skills could reasonably be expected to pass a course online that they couldn't pass when they had a teacher- even though that teacher most likely had no remedial education skills to address the students' real academic needs.

This program is not about education, rather it is about "credit recovery." The cynicism of teachers at LAUSD comes from the fact they we clearly know that little or nothing of what LAUSD administration presently does has anything to do with education. It has to do with credit recovery, whether or not students learn anything. It has to do with making up classes in an even more academically degraded situation online with little or know support for students who have already clearly shown for years that they are not making it, so let's do more of the same kinds of programs guaranteed to continue their failure.

In reading the history of LAUSD as written by Charles Taylor Kerchner in Learning From L.A. - Institutional Change in American Public Education -- what is astounding is that the history of public education in Los Angeles is the history of generation after generation of handy dandy sure-fired reform that predictably never succeeds. I must admit that I don't understand how smart people like Professors Kerchner and Ravitch can go on documenting public education's predictable failure that is assured because we keep doing the same thing over and over again.

Before real change can take place based on a demand supported by a higher consciousness, many people have to come to the clear realization that LAUSD and the politicians who keep them in power are not listening and are not taking the majority of people in this society who want better education seriously. Once shame on them for what they do to this country's future, twice shame on you if you keep asking them to do something you should know by now they never will do unless forced.

I met with several mothers at the Starbuck's on Crenshaw and Coliseum several days ago. They wondered how I knew what was going on in their schools and how their children were being held hostage by other students that didn't want to learn and an LAUSD administration that refused to maintain minimum discipline, standards, or rational education practices. I told them that either they stepped up to the plate and took power in conjunction with other parents and teachers who have had enough or LAUSD leadership will continue to be allowed to fail.

At the end of a trial where the defendant and his attorney are standing for the verdict, the judge says, "Guilty, life in prison." The defendant turns to his attorney who is packing up his papers into his brief case and asks him, "What do we do now?" The attorney says, "I don't know about you, but I'm going to lunch." At LAUSD, lunch continues to be served at your expense. Tired of it yet?


I never said 50% cannot learn. In the high school where I teach, which is comparable to most LAUSD high schools, 50% of students are sitting in classes like Algebra One and American Lit and totally bewildered. It may be because of language barriers, cultural attitudes, transience, poverty, neighborhood stressors, or, indeed, lack of intelligence, because humans do have differing degrees of intellect despite your DNA argument. The schools should be offering cabinetry, auto shop, cosmetology, landscape architecture, etc., instead of traditional academics. Or they could go back to the early grades and make sure students are ready for algebra in high school, but that would take very small classes and intensive instruction in a different atmosphere than prevails now.

Lenny, you and I would probably agree on lots of things about LAUSD (I'm a secondary math teacher with 26 years in at two different LAUSD schools, broken by four years in private school) but I have my own take on conventional liberalism. I have heard you decry the 50% dropout rate in LAUSD high schools. As long as the high schools are going to only offer traditional college prep academics, as if they were pre-colleges, 50% dropout is very reasonable because half the population is below average. The biggest mistake was in fall of 2003 when we began requiring Algebra One for all. we knew it would be a fiasco, a huge driver of the dropout rate, and it has been.

Human beings have about 96% the same DNA as chimps. Within homo sapiens, I think we kid ourselves as to how much smarter one person is over another. In what I call the Beehive model of education, some students get the royal jelly and others get the royal shaft, so it appears that one group is smarter. In my 24 years as a teacher, I find that ignorant and stupid look exactly alike and can only be distinguished if appropriate education is given in a timely manner before the brain atrophies. If students are allowed to get to middle school without effective academic intervention at their subjective levels, I don't think you can turn it around- even though it is not politically correct to say so- let's keep taking high school students with 3rd grade reading abilities to college fairs. Sweden has a true 100% literacy rate because they deal with the socio-economic factors that left unaddressed can do irreparable harm. When they brought in guest workers from the Indian subcontinent in the 1960s, they taught them Hindi before they taught them Swedish. It's a trip to be in Palung near the Artic Circle and watch Swedish come out of an Indian face that is totally assimilated. If we employed a similar model to this or maybe even the American model of education that implemented in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War and failed, then I might listen to the 50% cannot learn argument.

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