What will do the most to improve middle school education?

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Carol Teitelman (not verified)

TO improve middle schools,

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TO improve middle schools, provide robust, comprehensive, differentiated professional development. Provide adequate time for teams to work together to develop professional communities of learning.
Leonard Isenberg (not verified)

Ten Ideas for Creating a

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Ten Ideas for Creating a Superior Education System in Los Angeles and Elsewhere in the United States 1. The failure of discipline is a major factor in schools inability to educate students. Since schools are financed by the state based on Average Daily Attendance, school administrators are loath to suspend students who not only disrupt their own education, but also the education of other students who want an education. In an article published January 14, 2007 in the Los Angeles Times, a Title I school in Compton, California, that was half Black and half Latino and had only recently been taken over by the state for malfeasance, was able to achieved 868 API scores- comparable to Beverly Hills and San Marino- because the principal did not hesitate to suspend 100 from the 467 student body until they could comport themselves in a manner that would allow them to be educated. It is amazing how quickly parents can get their children to behave when they can no longer dump them on the schools. 2. The major difference between the successful private schools that now accommodate 92% of the Whites that have abandon public education in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District is the teacher to student ratio. Private schools have 15 to 20 students per class, while LAUSD permits 43 to 1. If a teacher has five classes with 43 students in each, it is unrealistic to think that rigorous writing assignments will be given by teachers who cannot reasonably be expected to grade 215 essays a week- 75 is doable, especially if it is done in the context of a school without the aforementioned behavior issues. It is highly suspicious that money for the improvement of public schools goes everywhere except to lessening teacher to student ratios. 3. The total capacity of all colleges and universities in the United States is 40% of high school graduates. End the disingenuous ed speak rhetoric that talks about all students going to college- college is not the only way to attain the skills necessary to become a productive and successful member of this society. The industrial arts program in LAUSD has been systematically closed down over that last 30 years based on the false assumption that the cost of retrofitting these shops to the exigencies of modern technology would be prohibitively expensive. In countries like Germany and France, these costs of retrofitting and supplying educational materials were borne by the private sector, which was happy to do so in exchange for a constant supply of well qualified graduates from the high schools. This has allowed these corporations to avoid the necessity of taking mechanics off the shop floor to be retrained at even greater expense to these companies. In Europe and elsewhere, this has been a win/win scenario for both education and business. Furthermore, students who subsequently decide that they want a higher academic education can more easily achieve this goal when they already have a skilled profession to pay for the presently daunting costs of increased tuition and other costs related to attaining such an education. Companies like Home Depot are unable to keep many young employees beyond their 90 day trial period because they have not been educated by the schools to have the requisite basic skill level and social responsibility necessary to show up and work to even a minimal level of competency. What is the cost to American business in competitive terms to be unable to find adequately educated employees? It takes approximately six months training to pass the state certification examination to be a welder. There is a critical shortage of welders in this country, where the starting average salary for this trade is $40,000 a year. Are people gainfully employed as likely to join gangs or join the 2 million inmates that presently occupy our jails? 4. The vast majority of our student population is condemned to failure before they even arrive at the school because they come from families that do not have the ability to physically and intellectually nurture their children in a manner that would lead to their ultimate success in school. We clearly know that things as mundane as diet, being read to, and having parents that have the time to talk to and parent their children create the stimulation and structure necessary to create the preconditions for ultimate success in school. If the schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere became the Zocolo or cultural town square of the community, many of these disadvantages that presently plague our students and lead to their ultimate failure in school and attraction to gangs could be easily avoided. At the turn of the last century, the settlement house provided the early acculturation necessary to assure success in school of a whole generation of European immigrants. Not only should local schools have a preschool program, but there should be an outreach into the community to identify women who are pregnant and assure that they are educated and aided in matters such as healthy diet, which would allow their children to reach their genetic potential- a prerequisite for ultimate academic success. Community markets run at the school on a weekly basis could significantly bring down the cost of these healthy foods to the community. Every successful industry has to be concerned about the quality of the raw materials used to produce its products, why should education be any different if it wants to be successful? 5. Schools are traditionally underutilized. One factor leading to the academic failure of predominantly minority children and the related rise in gangs is the inability of lower socio-economic parents to parent their children because they are too busy working two or three low paying jobs in order to make enough money to support their families. Thus, their children are being raised by the streets and the gangs that vie with our society for the hearts and minds of these kids. If night school programs were offered at these schools, it would have several advantages: It would educate these parents into a skilled labor force that would allow them to meet the financial needs of their families, while still being the necessary and irreplaceable presence in their children's socialization and accountability. Adolescents by their nature push for limits and absentee parents cannot supply these necessary limits. Furthermore, parents who are being educated would have the ability to help their language learning children, something they are presently unable to do in the vast majority of cases. If a kid on the Westside of Los Angeles doesn't get it, the parents get the child a tutor or tutor the kid themselves, but what happens when the parents don't have these options because their own educational level is so low? 6. LAUSD and the state make a lot of noise about teaching to state standards. However, there is a fundamental flaw to their reasoning- it assumes that the student in a certain grade has already mastered the underlying standards for their previous years of education. This is clearly not the case. The vast majority of students not only are unable to achieve the standards for their age-determined grade level, but they are also deficient in the standards for many of the prior years. A more rational approach to initial placement would be to access the students' actual ability and then place them according to that ability, rather then place them by age into classes that frustrate and cause them to turn off at an early age and disrupt the educational process for other students. In France at the Lycée International, no attempt is made to teach substantive courses to foreign language speakers until they have had at least one year and sometimes two years of intensive language instruction. Students who have language mastery then have little difficulty catching up with their peer group. But an educational system that continues to socially promote students through grade after grade of standards that they have not mastered should not be surprised when these students either drop out of school or fail to achieve even a minimum level of the education they need to be successful citizens. The vast majority of LAUSD students only have basic interpersonal language skills (BICS), which can be acquired in as little as six month in the United States. The more rigorous cognitive academic language production (CALP), which is necessary for higher education, is nowhere to be found in the majority of LAUSD schools, where students truly believe that a high school diploma is attained by copying a certain number of answers out of a book without understanding what they are writing. This phenomenon has gone on so long that a motivated and conscientious high school teacher is often greeted by hostility, if he dares to try and illicit CALP from students who have been "educated" to be antipathetic to education. This is a result of a misguided effort not to frustrate students. Many teachers teach a curriculum that has no rigor, because they realize that the majority of their students have been pushed through the system without the basic skills necessary to do the every more rigorous work demanded by subsequent grade levels. As the disparity between learned ability and grade level demand becomes greater- usually in middle school- the behavior issues become more pronounced. Politicians and school administrators shouldn't be surprised that these students fail the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). The State of California cannot come in with a "red team" audit of a failing school that is leading to a state takeover of that school and then allow the principal of the same school to intimidate the teachers for failing the students and not giving them a "passing" grade. 7. All testing should be limited to one assessment to determine appropriate class placement- irrespective of age- and a secondary assessment at the end of every grade level to determine if the student has achieved the minimum mastery of subjects necessary to allow promotion to the next grade- if this was instituted, you might actually have a chance of meaningfully teaching to standards. Supplemental expenditure for early identification and tutoring of students that are having trouble should receive a top prior and the best teachers. Presently, the newest teachers are given the most difficult classes, while the older more seasoned teachers teach the easier or more intellectually stimulating classes- this has lead to an average 50% turnover of teachers in LAUSD within 5 years. Although the District says it wants highly qualified teachers, the reality is that they are not unhappy to see a higher priced teacher quit for a less expensive first year teacher. The sophistication necessary to calculate the exorbitant cost of this constant turnover of teaching staff, which dwarfs the savings derived by paying lower salaried new teachers, is beyond the understanding of most administrators whose own education was to teach school and not to run a multi-billion dollar public corporation. The present over-testing regiment is degrading and disheartening to both students and teachers and wastes precious teaching time. 8. Bilingual education is a must in the global village. The only unequivocal way to tell a Latino student that his culture has value is to also teach his language. It is not going to hurt the rest of us and besides, they are the majority of the population in this state. Furthermore, all research shows that students who are literate in any language have a much easier time in transitioning to English. One of the greatest lies being perpetrated in education is that it would require more money to solve the education crisis. On the contrary, it would actually cost significantly less than the price of incarcerating over 2 million people in a country that, in reality, is in dire need of an educated workforce to build the infrastructure that would make Los Angeles a better place to live for all of us. 9. The budget of the Los Angeles Unified School District is larger than the budget of the City of Los Angeles. One of the only justifiable reasons to allow such behemoth innercity school districts to exist is to take advantage of the economics of scale in purchasing educational materials and the construction and maintenance of schools. The reality of LAUSD is quite different. There is a list of agreed upon vendors from which LAUSD buys, even though any individual could walk into a local store and get a better price than the school district. When we tried to purchase computers at our school for $300 less per computer, we were told that we could only buy from the higher priced district approved vendors. Rather than "manhattanize" the construction of future schools on existing school sites that are presumptively more likely to be clear of toxic waste as was suggested by then LAUSD CEO Howard Miller almost 10 years ago, LAUSD has chosen the far more expensive alternative of using eminent domain to build new schools on often contaminated sites without examining far less expensive alternatives. It is also worth noting that something as simple as staggering the starting and ending times of school to ensure greater utilization of the existing schools might obviate the necessity of building more schools while accommodating many students who have to work nights to help support their families. These students would be much more likely to be engaged and stay in school, if they were allowed to get adequate sleep before coming to school later on during the day. 10. The exclusive source of school administrators in LAUSD, with the exception of the last two superintendents who have no formal public education experience, is school teachers who have a totally different skill set than what is necessary to effectively run a multi-billion dollar business. The reason that this system exists is that becoming an administrator is upward mobility for teachers that are burned out by the intolerable present conditions in our schools. Furthermore, as the cost of home ownership continues to rise in Los Angeles, we cannot hope to attract less transient teachers unless we adequately compensate them, so that they will stay with the teaching profession. Administration of schools should become a totally separate educational track that prospective administrators should commit to and be educated for during college, rather than the sole source of upward mobility for the teaching profession. Sincerely, Leonard Isenberg lisenb1@lausd.k12.ca.us
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