Commentary

Diane Ravitch speaks to UTLA in September of 2010 at Immanuel Presbyterian Church across the street from UTLA Headquarters. She was fantastic.

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This guy is certainly correct in principle. I can’t agree more.

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Submitted to the LA Times, but rejected 11/16/2010 – oh well.

HPHS – An Object of LA Unified’s Rampage Without a Cause.

by P.R. Keller

It’s true.  A huge sigh of relief could be felt throughout the campus when word reached our ears that Huntington Park High School had reached an API score of 603. It meant that the threat of being taken over by outsiders or charter companies had passed. The relief was short lived when we discovered that we would be placed into a special Public School Choice plan (2.5) created by our school board just for us. The original agreement was that any school under School Choice 2.0 would be removed from the list if its API reached 600. Two reasons were offered to justify the district’s reneging on this agreement. Both of these reasons are baseless.

First of all, HPHS as a whole was unjustly compared with Libra Academy, an emerging pilot school on our campus created through the efforts of two key teachers and Ms. Yolie Flores, our school board representative.  Ms. Flores and Mr. Cortines have claimed that Libra has made great academic strides in comparison with the remainder of the campus; so that Libra stands as some kind of model for the rest of us.  Libra is still a part of HPHS, but they have claimed that removing Libra’s124 freshmen from the figure would drop HPHS to an API score of 546. This is a drop of 57 points from the API score for a school of 4,000? You don’t have to be an Einstein to furrow your eyebrows at the math here.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the 726 API number is correct for Libra Academy. It becomes irrelevant when a closer examination is made of the two student bodies. The 124 Libra freshmen from last year began the year with recorded eighth grade CST scores well ahead of the remainder of the campus. Libra accomplished this by selecting its students using an application process that required a portfolio. What kind of prospective ninth grade student is going to produce a portfolio to get into a smaller school? Will his or her parents be uninformed or uninvolved in their child’s education? Parent involvement is a huge factor in a child’s academic success. We don’t have anywhere near the degree of parent involvement we would like to see at HPHS. Libra obviously received kids with that important factor firmly in place.

In the spring of 2010, 112 students took the CST’s at Libra. Libra showed gains in English. 65 students tested as “Advanced” or “proficient.”(58%)  Their math scores, however, dropped significantly to show only 14 students testing into these categories (13% down from 28% during their eighth grade year) while the number scoring at “below basic” and “far below basic” rose from 33 to 55 (49%). Science scores also dropped. Only 30 students demonstrated “advanced” or “proficient” skill levels in the spring (27%) compared with eighth grades scores of 45% at advanced or proficient levels in science.  HPHS took on a similar pattern of CST results in the spring with percentages in the advanced and proficient categories checking in at 25%, 6%, and 11% in the same subject areas respectively.  According to the tests, both schools gained ground in English and lost ground in math and science.

If Libra were to receive a “value added” score, it would be low. Someone might argue that the students don’t take the CST’s seriously and don’t put much effort into them. I would respond with, “YES INDEED!” Would someone please inform the media before they start printing high school teachers’ “value added” scores!  At HPHS our passing rates on the CAHSEE have never correlated with scores on CST’s. The students take the CAHSEE much more seriously than they take CST’s. Why shouldn’t they? The CAHSEE counts toward graduation. The CST’s do not. Our kids are NOT stupid.

At the present time over 220 students are enrolled in Libra Academy. Its population of special education students amounts to 2% of its enrollment. The regular school has 11% special ed. Libra’s population of limited English proficient students amounts to 17% of its enrollment. On the regular campus, 31% of our students are classified as limited English proficient.

Libra Academy does not teach students who function at similar academic levels as the remainder of the school. Comparisons between the two schools are at best irrelevant and at worse deceptive.

The second charge leveled against Huntington Park High School is that the school has dropped a sense of urgency in its plans for reform after the announcement of API scores. This is simply not true.

As an English teacher there for eleven years and a second year member of its School Site Council, I can attest that urgency has never left the minds of the faculty at HPHS. Desperation disappeared, but a sense of urgency remained.

The school council had endorsed a plan to incorporate more technology in its instruction using project-based learning plans and internet tools. Two representatives from the school were able to persuade the city council to set up a tower near the campus in order to create WiFi services for the school and the surrounding community. Training and preparation were in planning stages in order to begin implementation of project-based instruction. Academic intervention would also be available by way of internet services.

Most importantly, a committee of about a dozen teachers has been furiously at work for more than six months creating a design for a freshman house, a small academy or learning community for the purpose of focusing on freshmen and their unique sets of needs as they transition from middle school into high school.  The Freshman house would offer quick and aggressive intervention to alter inappropriate behavior. It would offer remediation. Also, every freshman student would be issued a lap top computer which he or she could take home with them.

I consider all of these plans to hold at least a hope for genuine improvement in our school’s academic performance. They hold hope because they address real problems not solutions that upper level administrators have decided upon without any real investigation of what is going on. Intervention, remediation, motivation, engagement – these are the things that are lacking in high schools, including ours.  Technology and a concentration on freshmen can offer what is lacking. It’s no guarantee, but these ideas stand a much better chance of success than out of touch programs intended to fix the teacher.

I was almost looking forward to the possibility of no longer having to hear surly adolescents tell me that it didn’t matter if they passed my class or not because they could make up the credits in intersession or in “beyond the bell” – diluted, easier versions of regular classes which are provided by the district as escape valves. I was almost looking forward to NOT having students walk into my class expecting to turn their desks so that they face each other in order to gossip, joke, and mindlessly copy an assignment from one student who did it in their group.

There was hope, and then the district dropped the bomb.

The sudden imposition of Public School Choice 2.5 jeopardizes all of these plans for the future. It has sparked a deeper sense of distrust and despair throughout the campus. Dividing the campus into four to six separate pilot schools will create a greater scarcity of resources and result in wasteful spending on administration and the duplication of services.  The massive sense of resentment begotten by the hostile and uninformed interference of Ms. Flores will surely preclude any possibility of success for this division. It would accomplish nothing but the maintenance of blind educational ideology.

 

10 Responses to Commentary

  1. fieldworker says:

    these figures and data must be published or released to the public/community. We didn’t do it at the last community forum; maybe we can do it at the December meeting?

  2. fieldworker says:

    At a meeting in Castillo’s office, Steve Scanlan called in the steering committee including myself, Clare Martinet, and Laurie Woerful. Castillo invited us to garner faculty support to write for his plan. We were distressed by the “small school” nature of his plan. I proposed that we continue to write only for “our plan” and Castillo do what he wants. We would continue to rally community, parent, and student support for our side and he could proceed with his side. At the end of the day, let the best plan win. Castillo agreed that this could be done. I was completely ignored by our local UTLA representatives here at HP. This idea of mine was not allowed to be communicated to rank and file; it could only be discussed “off the floor” in private conversations. Now it proves to be the correct strategy. In response to being correct, I have been defacto removed from the steering committee. Thanks.

  3. fieldworker says:

    I guess our UTLA local representation still intends to cooperate with Castillo, given their dismal track record so far? Or have they finally woken up? Perhaps too little, too late, in my opinion. We could have been doing what will start on Monday Nov. 22 weeks earlier, if only some of our leaders would have stood up with a backbone. But no one listens to fieldworker; they would rather participate in secret, backroom meetings with goofy leadership types and admins, smoke and all.

  4. fieldworker says:

    concerning the “Fine Them” video: a guy with backbone. A fellow fieldworker. Notice at the end of the video that it was not endorsed by UTLA. UTLA bends over backwards and continually opts for “cooperation.”

  5. savehphs says:

    As long as Castillo backs what we want to see, I’m okay with Castillo’s plan. He was in support of keeping the school together. We’ll see what happens in the future. Remember that he cannot defy a directive.

    Defacto removed from the steering committee?That never happened.

    • fieldworker says:

      “Castillo back[ing] what we want to see” is a mere delay tactic. By diverting our attention for weeks, we are only now starting to write for ourselves. How about this idea? Boycott those small meetings behind closed doors in secret offices. Don’t go into the smoke filled room. Just don’t go in. Everything must be done on the “floor” of our faculty meetings. If they say the timing isn’t correct and you must meet them in a small room, say no. Don’t meet with them in closed door sessions.

  6. MATT FISCHER says:

    THANKS FOR REOPENING THIS BLOG MR. KELLER…YOU ARE VERY ARTICULATE! TOO BAD FOR US (The Staff) AND HPHS AS A WHOLE BECAUSE MANY TEACHERS THAT HELPED OUR STUDENTS SO VERY MUCH WILL NEVER RETURN…THIS WAS OUR HOME, OUR COMMUNITY, OUR FAMILY AND NOW WE ARE REMOVED AND ANY PROGRESS WE HAVE ACHIEVED WILL TAKE TEN STEPS BACKWARDS. FOR WHAT? (to save $, to break the campus apart into pilot or (small) schools,which is what we were already doing for the past few years, etc. Whatever the reasons, regardless many individuals who loved HPHS will mourn our great loss.)
    I WILL MOVE ON GRACEFULLY BUTI STILL FEEL SAD THAT I WAS NOT INVITED BACK TO HPHS AFTER 17 YEARS…I GAVE IT MY BEST EFFORTS WHILE AT HP. THE PANEL OF SIX THAT INTERVIEWED ME NEVER OBSERVED ME TEACH…SAVE THE STUDENT PANELIST.
    SOME QUESTIONS STILL REMAIN: WHAT WAS THE CRITERIA USED TO EVALUATE THE TEACHERS WHO SOUGHT TO RETURN TO THE NEW HP? WAS THERE A RUBRIC USED TO JUDGE US AT OUR INTERVIEW? IF SO, WHAT TOPICS OR WHAT SPECIFIC TEACHING SKILLS OR STRATEGIES WAS I LACKING? I WANT TO KNOW WHAT SKILLS I AM LACKING SO I CAN BE THE BEST POSSIBLE CANDIDATE FOR MY NEXT JOB INTERVIEW… . I JUST WANT TO KNOW THE RULES OF THE GAME IF I AM FORCED TO PLAY IT…

    • savehphs says:

      Hey Matt, you were great at HPHS. The kids loved you and still talk about you. You’ll have a legacy. A rubric for judging teachers? I really don’t think so. I think there was a list already created at the time of interviews with names of who should stay and who should go. I can’t prove anything, but I would be willing to guess that Yolie sat down with a few key individuals from the former principal’s in-group (NOT Castillo) and chose the names. The basis for retaining people was probably such qualities as passivity, age (expense), and subservience.. From what I’m hearing, you DON’T want to be there now.

  7. Amanda Del Cid ( Libra Academy student) says:

    bunch of bull about LIBRA, most of this info is pure fiction get your facts straight before you try to pull an accomplished institution down.

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