Still Failing After All These Years


As anyone with even a passing acquaintance with public education knows,
these days even schools get report cards. In the State of California the main form of measurement is the system known as the API scores—Academic Performance Index. The 2006 API scores were released Tuesday afternoon, and the news for the Los Angeles School District high schools is godawful.

Instead of improving over last year’s already dismal scores, this year’s LAUSD high school scores actually dropped 20 points.

The API system is slightly confusing so here’s very smart Daily News education writer, Naush Boghossian, to explain it.

The Academic Performance Index shows how each school performs academically compared with other schools. It is used to determine whether California schools are meeting federal benchmarks set by the No Child Left Behind Act, President George W. Bush’s education-reform initiative.

Scores range from 200 to 1,000 points, with 800 being the goal of all schools, as well as for all subgroups within each school, including minority, disabled and disadvantaged students, and English-language learners.

Okay, got that? A score of 800 or better tells us our schools are doing an adequate job of educating our kids. Really great schools score in the high 900’s.

LAUSD high schools scored 602 this year. And remember, that’s the median. Palisades Charter High School, one of the district’s stars, hit 900 exactly. The schools that are in the most trouble—Jefferson, Jordan, Locke, Fremont and others— scored 500 or less.

Chart from Los Angeles Daily News
(The above chart was snatched from the Daily News.)

Although my LA education writer friends
don’t want to be so impolite as to say it out loud, what everyone is thinking is that the drop in scores this year is particularly ironic in view of last year’s expensive, bitter and extremely public mud-wrestling between the Los Angeles Unified school board and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over control of LA’s schools—or some of the schools anyway. During the worst of the brawling, then school superintendent, Roy Romer, got very huffy at the suggestion that the district wasn’t making dandy progress with its test scores. They were doing fine, he and the board said repeatedly, while simultaneously shrieking at the mayor that he better take his freaking hands off their educational system. Then they backed up their it’s-our-ball position with a lawsuit preventing Villaraigosa from taking over three low-performing LAUSD school “clusters,” although the state legislature passed a law allowing him to do so.

And so did the LAUSD administration manage to improve those failing high schools that it clutched so jealously to its administrative bosom? No, it did not. Most of those schools got worse. Again.

Meanwhile the scores of the (also public) non-administration-heavy Green Dot Charter High Schools, many of which serve the same neighborhoods as LA’s most troubled campuses, went up. Again.

Green Dot, for those of you out-of-towners reading this, is a non-profit charter school operator that runs ten charter high schools in low-income areas of Los Angeles County. Since the Green Dot schools consistently outperform their LAUSD-run neighbors, around 18 months ago, the charter group made a bid to take over ultra-troubled Jefferson High School. But, as with the mayor, LAUSD honchos fought them tooth, nail, claw and press release. And, as with the mayor, the district won.

(Although Green Dot did succeed in opening five new charter schools around Jefferson this past fall, draining off a big chunk of LAUSD’s 9th graders.)

So how did the much-fought-over Thomas Jefferson High School do in this round of testing? It’s score was 451. Dead bottom.

I think there’s a lesson in here somewhere. And if we look really, really hard, maybe we can find it.


  • Before the usual suspects write in to show how this “proves” that public education is a failure and unions are ruining things and (yada yada yada) let us stop for a moment and note that the suburban school districts – like Newport Harbor and Irvine down in my neck of the woods – are doing just fine thank you.; And here the big complaint is from parents concerned that the NCLB mania has sentenced their kids to a straitjacketed education where they are taught to the test rather than get the AP goodies so they’ll get into Ivyland or UC.

    So why the difference? I think I’ll go to NYC since the mayor’s control over schools there is one of Villaragosa’s dreams. Anyone familiar with the ethnic politics of that city has heard of the old saw that the various waring tribes there had carved up the city civil service so that everyone got a slice: Irish got Police and Fire, Italians Sanitation and Parks and the schools were the province of the Jews. Note that this was before Puerto Ricans or Blacks had any say but now, of course they have muscled in.

    Well look at LA. Remember the crap that came down when a Chicano Super was dismissed? Anyone note that in many schools ethnic ties are important for ownership. And this is not just a condition of the schools. Look at King-Drew, or “Killer King” as it is affectionately called. Community activist groups have fought over it for years. I recall a superb article by Erin Aubry Kaplan on King Drew in the WEEKLY that pointed out the blinkers of activists that excused practices there that were murderously incompetent.

    I think that may have a lot to do with the schools in LAUSD. The “Dance of the Lemons” so well documented is really the dance of entitlement. It is easy to make excuse for the poor performance. Overcrowded, language issues, poverty, and the fact is most large urban school systems never graduated that many kids and in the past didn’t have to. You could be a laborer and do just fine. But until we address of the question of just what the schools are for this will continue.

    And don’t say that the parents don’t care. They do. But as long as they identify “Good Schools” as those that cater to the ethnic whims of the moment (Ebonics anyone?) this will go on and on. LAUSD need more money and resources. It also need serious reform. And, above all, it needs a new ethos that says that the primary function of the system is to prepare citizens for the 21st century who will be able to engage in the life of the community. And that mens understanding that the system is not a source of prestiege employment in the community.

    Course I could just be curmudgenly white guy. Disregard everything I said!

  • It’s absolutely unbelievable that the LAUSD school board members are part timers. I know for a fact they don’t alway read charter proposals and finish all the work expected of them, and I assume one of the reasons is that they have full time jobs aside from running the second largest school district in the country. This isn’t to excuse the incredibly poor job the LAUSD school does (as ugly and political an organization as you’re like to find), but to bring up one of the myriad ways in which we expect our schools and our school administrators to succeed with less. Why Californians don’t care enough to properly fund our schools is beyond me.

  • Wow, I looked up my local high school and found their score is 924 for 2006.
    Even the Students with Disabilities did better than LAUSD with a score of 610.

    Students Number Score
    – Asian 748 978
    – Hispanic 229 810
    – White 542 904
    – Stud Disab 112 610
    Total 1631 924

    Big is NOT beautiful.
    Big is impersonal
    Big becomes run by administrators not leaders
    Big is bureaucratic.

    Break up LAUSD

  • Very, very well said, Richard.

    Mavis: “I know for a fact they don’t alway read charter proposals and finish all the work expected of them…”

    No kidding. Some are better than others, of course. Mike Lansing and David Tokofsky were pretty good about at least reading the material. But the rest…

    Pokey, I agree with you. 1500 kids are manageable in a high school. 5000 isn’t.

    About the district, I don’t know that anyone’s come up with a good plan for breaking up LAUSD. But I think one could be found. Even if it functioned under a sort of Federal principle, which would help with the money equalization. But assuredly, we should blow the sucker up and start over.

  • […] District got news that its high schools were doing cumulatively worse than last year, not better [See yesterday’s story, “Still Failing After all These Years”] the LAUSD board made a move that, as usual, had everything to do with politics, and exactly zero […]

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