xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Don't Forget South Central: September 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Newspapers Save Parents From Themselves

photo from msnb.,msn.com.
The community of South Central has been struck with another painful blow, in a part of town already plagued by crime, poverty, and violence.  This week, a teacher, a respected and integral part of the Miramonte community took his own life, due to pressure faced about his public job rating, according to family members.

According to parents, students and co-workers, this was the kind of teacher who changed lives and served as a real-life role model for his students and their families.  Making out of the neighborhood is a challenging obstacle for many kids; fewer than 10% actually make it to and graduate from college.  Rigoberto Ruelas defeated those odds, but he did not leave the ‘hood.  He came back, put down roots, and decided to make a life out of helping English learners like himself overcome the obstacles of our stratified society.
Former students of Rigoberto Ruela (from left): Karla Gonzalez, Alicia Hernandez, and Perla Cruz
 photo by Brian Watt/KPCC

Parents loved Mr. Ruelas.  They looked forward to placing their children in his class.  Former students came back and visited often.  He took entire families to the beach, to help them navigate the culture of the Westside, and to enjoy the beauty of nature by the sea.  To parents, Mr. Ruelas was a hero, one that had the power to protect their kids from the temptations of gangs, or of disconnecting from school.

But according to the Los Angeles Times, these parents were wrong.

The L.A. Times labeled Mr. Ruelas as an ineffective teacher.  The value-added method, they explained, took out all the subjectivity in evaluations, and produced a hard number that allowed for comparisons between teachers and schools.  This “value added measure” took into account poverty, language difficulties, etc. and could be considered a reliable evaluation.  It was so reliable, they espoused, that they felt confident in labeling people according to these scores (while at the same time stating they should only be considered as one criterion with which to measure teachers.  Nevertheless, this did not stop them from taking their data manipulation to label teachers as Most Effective, Effective, and Least Effective. 
Letters & Drawings honoring Rigoberto Ruelas posted on a memorial wall outside Miramonte Elementary School. 
 photo by Brian Watt/KPCC

Which leads me to my question, who gave these outsiders the right to judge who is best suited to teach the children of South Central?  Or put it this way; why does this newspaper think they know better than parents?  The paper issued a statement saying it published the data so that "the public could judge it for themselves."  The public never had that chance.  The LA Times reporters, Jason Song and Jason Felch did that for us by taking the raw data, and drawing conclusions from it.  Conclusions they published for the whole world to see.

Maybe a parent doesn’t have the technical expertise to read data graphs, or formulas.  Maybe a parent can’t tell the different between criterion-referenced or norm-referenced tests.  But they know when their child is being challenged.  They can see the light in their child’s eyes either brighten or dim, depending on their experiences at school.  They can tell when a teacher is trying their best or when they are skating by.  They may not be college graduates, but they are no fools.

This community loved Mr. Ruelas.  This community respected the maestro.  But now, a classroom of students is left without a teacher, a school is deprived of a noble leader whose simple presence at school taught students volumes about perseverance and hope.  Qualities, which cannot be measured by any test.

If would like information about the L.A. Times boycott, click here.

To learn more about the life of Rigoberto Ruelas, click here.

Martha Infante aka avalonsensei

Monday, September 13, 2010

Test Scores Drop

Today, the CA Department of Education released the Accountability reports for schools throughout the state.  Although LAAMS had received its raw scores in August, the API score released today is significant because it measures how our school has been performing over time.  After many years of positive growth, this last school year did not produce continued growth.  We went down by 5 points in the API measure.

This score is bittersweet.  We have an organized and efficient campus, one that many families flock to, and one that takes pride in serving the community.  We knew, however, that the loss of 23 teachers due to the 2009 Reduction in Force would have a terrible impact on our school community, and by extension, our test scores.  It did. 

We increased the number of students who sank to the the lowest of levels, Far Below Basic.  This is not an increase that we should have.  Because California gives the most points for moving students out of this level, you also get dinged pretty hard for increasing the numbers there.

This blog has served to chronicle how our school survived the brutal dismissal of some of our most esteemed and talented colleagues.  We survived, but our test scores show our survival was bloody.  There is no other way to explain how years and years of positive growth all of a sudden came to a stop.  According to the CDE website, our school has never had negative growth since it opened its doors in 1998.  In fact, the only time there was not evidence of positive growth was when we had a different principal, and there were testing irregularities, and as a result, scores were not computed for our school.  This happened in 2001. 

Of course we will look at the data.  We will analyze scores, class by class, to see if there is something we missed.  But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that when you lay off 23 teachers, leave thousands of students to be taught by substitutes, that you will not get a good result in the end.  I hope someone in the Beaudry building downtown bothers to pick up the phone ans ask questions instead of throwing us to the Public School Choice morass, and putting our school through even more turmoil, stress, and anxiety than we already have.

Further, a new middle school will be opening next school year resulting in the further loss of staff.  Up to 30% of our staff will be forced to transfer to the new school.  Truly, these years of upheaval are not lost on the students.  It is very difficult for them to handle the continuous changes in faces at school.  Their beloved counselors?  Gone or back in the classroom.  The dean they could trust to report bullies to?  Not enough funds to keep them in the office. 

So onward and adelante, to borrow a phrase from Scott Folsom, because there is no point in wallowing in this turn of events. 

photo by DeFreitas

Monday, September 6, 2010

L.A. Academy Star Releases Second Album

Lamar Queen continues his mission to educate and empower youth via math raps and songs that appeal to our students.  His sophomore album is called Second Period and features songs about Pre-Algebra.  In addition, the company he founded, Music Notes Online, has also "signed" a second artist, Mr. D, who has released his own album on Geometry.

Many fans search this blog for the lyrics to Mr. Q-U-E's raps, and they are finally available online by clicking here.  Enjoy!

If you are in the Los Angeles area, don't forget to join us at the Back to School Jam at Horace Mann Middle School on September 18th. 

It's going to be another great year in South Central!