A Tale of Two Back to School Nights

Excitement and enthusiasm were in the air as teachers in my new high school in a middle class neighborhood prepared their classrooms by decorating their bulletin boards, displaying student work, and straightening desks. Welcome messages abounded, Remind.com messages were sent, and we opened our doors to meet the parents.
I have done these events for 24 years, four times a year at my former school in South Central L.A. But this year’s Back to School Night left me reflecting, and perhaps shedding a tear.
First, my new parents were fantastic. They were friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive of the new ideas I bring to the school. I knew in them I would have allies to incorporate my findings from my Fulbright exchange in Finland earlier this year. Parent after parent nodded their heads and strongly affirmed that break time was important to students, teachers, and workers in general. They were excited to hear about the summer travel programs I had prepared.
As I looked at their warm and s…

Test Scores: What Do They Really Mean?

Don't Forget South Central (DFSC, as christened by K. Libby) has a love/hate relationship with the L.A. Times. On the one hand, its reporting is vastly slanted (the puff piece on charters last week is a primo example). However, many times it is our only source of information on the district we work in. So, reluctantly, we must refer to it for "information."

Below is a graphic from the so-called Times Special Report on Charter Schools. Although it can be interpreted in many ways, I see that Green Dot's schools (Charter Management Organizations) have the lowest proficiency averages of all the types of charter schools. The charters most closely affiliated with the District have the highest scores.

It seems that having some flexibility from District red tape may result in the highest test scores. The more you venture away into Green Dot territory, whose leaders have no background in education, the lower your test scores will be.

One thing to consider is that these scores are not growth scores. They do not show how a particular students scored after a year of instruction. In other words, if a charter enrolled lots of Advanced and Proficient students, then it is not a huge achievement to have the kids continue scoring that way. A better analysis would focus on average growth: after a year of instruction at a charter (or traditional school, or affiliated charter, etc) what was the average growth per student? That would maybe give the public a better idea of which system produces higher scores.

However, higher scores could be a reflection of the narrowing of the curriculum, a dynamic that occurs when schools choose to focus on the English and Math disciplines, because these are the ones measured by NCLB. Science and Social Studies and the Arts get...left behind.

Either way, the scores of Charter Management Organizations like Green Dot don't support the Times conclusion that they outperform traditional public schools by a gigantic margin, especially considering they are beneficiaries of a more motivated population of students and families.


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