A constituent recently forwarded to me a copy of an article from Children magazine which contained an analysis of the ACT and SAT scores of selected districts in Los Angeles County. I have extracted some of the data, which is summarized in the table below:
As you can see from this first chart, we have significant room for improvement. Considering that we spend far more per student per year than the districts who are ahead of us, I believe that we can and should become the No. 1 district in Los Angeles County. This will require greater efficiencies and greater focus. It will also require accountability, which is something that gets talked about a lot at the district office, but that does not appear to have had much impact on student achievement scores in recent years.
The next chart shows the percentage growth in SAT scores and ACT scores in the same districts over the past two years. As you can see, we seem to be falling farther behind.
When is the public going to wake up and realize that we need an all-out effort to increase the efficiency of our school district? I am glad that people can get excited about a safety issue like air quality, because this is important. However, I am amazed that more people do not get excited about the lack of academic achievement.
Below is the final chart in this series. This is basically a combination of the first two charts. The percentages of students scoring above average are plotted with light blue lines and the growth rates are plotted with green triangles. The scale on the left-hand side reflects the percentages of students scoring above average and the scale on the right hand side reflects the growth rates.
If the Board of Education does not start holding people accountable for the disappointing academic performance of our student body, the likelihood of improvement seems remote.
I personally believe that there is room for improvement in virtually every area, including:
1. curriculum development and implementation (the lack of improvement in our scores relative to other districts during the past two years, as well as the disappointing Stanford 9 scores in the lower grades, suggests that recent initiatives have not been effective),
2. communication with and among the district office, teachers, parents, and students (as things stand now, parents often learn that their child is getting a poor grade too late to do anything about it -- our current system of interim report cards is uninformative, and, in an age of computers, inexcusable),
3. staff development (I am tired of hearing at board meetings how wonderful be staff development was, then talking to teachers who have needs that are not being met -- -- I think that the only way that staff development may ever get better will be if the teachers are allowed to develop and collate their own evaluations, to present them directly to the board along with suggestions for improvement),
4. setting of clear goals and monitoring to make sure that such goals are being met, not waiting until the next set of disappointing test scores comes out,
5. more efficient deployment of our money and other resources (I believe that it is inexcusable that we do not have organized after school programs to address the children who are not achieving their potential, and I believe that we could eliminate hundreds of thousands of dollars of waste by operating more efficiently),
6. vigilant monitoring of our school sites by the site administrators to make sure that all of the teachers are performing (and providing assistance to those who are not) and to make sure that when class is in session, the students are in class, not loitering in the hallways (I am going to continue to hammer on this issue until we have a strict anti-tardy policy at the high school -- I once counted over 200 loiterers at the high school within a five-minute timeframe and have had repeated complaints from teachers about this, but nothing ever seems to happen to change it), and
7. Building a team of parents, teachers, administrators, staff members, community members, and board members who are committed to becoming the number one school district in Los Angeles County and who will work tirelessly to try to achieve this goal.
I am sure that I will receive a lot of criticism with respect to most of these points. For one thing, there are many people who do not want to seem to face up to the fact that we could be doing a lot better job in educating children. It is not pleasant to think that there are children in our system and who have graduated from our system who should have received a better education. It is not pleasant to face up to the fact that there are other districts that have significantly higher stores, even though they are spending far less money per child.
By now, I believe that I have heard all of the arguments as to why our scores are not the best in the county, despite our superior funding.
The most common argument relates to demographics. In its most persuasive form, such argument runs as follows. Our district has a lot of children whose families do not provide them with strong English skills (and, often, there is no one available at home with strong English skills to help with homework). Sometimes people also argue that we have a lot of children who live in apartments (and numerous studies show that academic achievement correlates highly with socioeconomic status). I am not interested in arguing with the people who believe this, because my research suggests that there is merit to both of these points. However, I think that it is inexcusable that the district does not make an all-out effort to deal with these issues head-on. With respect to English skills and homework, we need an after school program that will address both of these issues as aggressively as we are addressing the air quality issues. With respect to the socioeconomic issues, we need to harness the enthusiasm that makes people want to live in Beverly Hills to send their children to our schools and give education the same priority that we would give a fire that is heading in the direction of our homes.
Our teachers are not miracle workers. If a child has weak English skills and no one to help with homework, the district can and should provide an program (which could be staffed with volunteers, including other students) to make damn sure that such child gets the help that he or she needs to achieve his/her potential. If a child is not taking school seriously, then the district needs to intervene with discipline and parent communication. I have observed most of the classrooms in the district and am pleased to report that I have seen a lot of outstanding teaching. However, there is only so much that each teacher can do, and the teachers could do far more if the district provided more support for the children who need it.
I have never seen a candidate for the school board or a member of the school board ever contradict the view that we need to provide the best possible education for every student. Nonetheless, the test scores strongly suggest that this has not been happening. We are not the first school district that has had disappointing test scores. Other districts have made concerted efforts to improve their test scores, and have succeeded. Instead of making excuses and empty promises, I believe that we need to declare a war on inefficiency and underachievement in the district and be required to provide the public with a monthly report as to what we have done and what we can actually prove that we have accomplished.
Maybe we can never be the #1 district. Maybe the obstacles are just too great. However, I believe that we owe it to the children to try. I also think that we can succeed, but only if enough people come together and say that the status quo is not nearly good enough, and commit to whatever changes are necessary to become the #1 district in Los Angeles County.
My parents, approximately 1984. I was always taught to set my goals high and do my best to achieve them.