Set Up for Failure
When our school lost 23 teachers in the 2009 Reduction in Force, we lost some very accomplished individuals who had chosen to work at our previously hard to staff school, and were making progress with our students in South Central Los Angeles.
When $17,000,000,000 in budget cuts occurred over the last 2 years, we pulled ourselves together and made do with less counselors, less supplies, less professional development, less, support staff, and less summer and Saturday school opportunities for students.
When our school got hit with layoffs again this year, we gritted our teeth, knowing that the positions would not be filled in a timely manner because when all is said and done, the sad truth is that South Central has a bad reputation, some of it well-deserved, for being a scary place to work. We still have not staffed unfilled positions from 2009.
So it was no surprise to anyone on the campus when we received the news that we did not achieve our test growth target according to the California Department of Education. Our score dropped by 5 points.
The mood has been grim since then because in the era of testing fanaticism and sanctions, we knew we would not escape unscathed. And we didn't. This week we received the news that we, along with 42 other schools, would be placed on the auction block to be bid upon by outside operators in LAUSD's Public School Choice process.
Accountability. According to the reforms sweeping the nation and supported by the President himself, if schools don't meet their testing targets, they will receive a sanction. In our case, the reasoning is that we have failed to meet our targets because of something we are doing wrong internally, such as governance or instruction, and the $17,000,000,000 in budget cuts + massive layoffs had nothing to do with our students' test scores. This is not true.
Our school has made progress every year since it opened in 1998. We have never, not once, had a drop in test scores, although in some years our growth was not what we would have liked it to be. It is the simplest form of cause and effect to see that the economic collapse has had a negative impact on students, parents, and schools in poverty.
We experienced greater growth at the higher end, with close to 30% of our students scoring Proficient or Advanced in English, and in the mid-twenties in Math. This is a great accomplishment for a neighborhood school because our students arrive in our classroom with serious deficiencies and gaps in learning, but high-achieving kids scoring well does not get recognized by this administration or in the API scoring system.
Now, we are labeled as a failing school, and we must be saved from ourselves. We must write a plan to defend why we should retain management of our own campus, and why we should not be handed over to an organization like Green Dot or ICEF who know better than us how to educate students.
We have the rest of this school year and next to write a plan. Schools will be awarded some time next school year. By 2012-13, we will begin the school year as a public school or a charter.
To say the staff was devastated is not quite accurate. We have an active UTLA chapter, and many teachers are in the know about the direction education policy is taking these days. We are however, tired. It has been tremendously difficult to deal with an increase in student misbehavior in a challenging neighborhood, with three less counselors, and one less dean to assist teachers and students. Not meeting our testing target has resulted in increased mandates from the District resulting in less conference periods to lesson plan or meet with parents. Instructional time is reduced as assessment time increases. The students are stressed out too because teachers are constantly urging them to do well on tests.
A plan will be written, of course. And our parents will support us, because we have provided a valuable service to the community. They trust us. But the time we could be spending improving our teaching will now be dedicated to fulfilling the mandates of a misguided policy that would have the public believe that data and accountability are all that's necessary to improve our schools. It is false, and it's maddening.
What does our school need? We need our support staff back. We need our resources back. We need about five full-time Psychiatric/Social workers to help students deal with the problem they encounter in this community on a daily basis: poverty, violence, abuse, gangs, few role models, unhealthy food, health care, and united families.
Because the last thing hungry, angry, and abused students want to do when they walk into a classroom is 1. see a substitute and 2. learn about the change in Buddhist thought during the Tang dynasty.
DFSC will continue blogging during the Public School Choice process.
photo by hofsportsonline.com