By C. J. Salgado
With the end of summer come those yearly rituals for parents and school kids everywhere, a final hurrah before it’s back to school. Some are thinking of where to find the best sale on school supplies. Others are already counting the number of days left until next summer. Me, I’m thinking of the critical challenges that face the many kids of East L.A. when they return to school on Wednesday.
You see, it’s just not fair. Out of the more than 20 public elementary schools that serve the kids of East L.A., only one reached its statewide academic performance target, as measured by scoring at least an 800 on the Academic Performance Index (API), 2010 base year, according to the California Department of Education. That school was Fourth Street Elementary School. However, this school represents less than 3% of the elementary school population in East L.A! The rest fell short, again, from 2009. So the struggle to find that elusive and sustained “academic growth” continues for these schools, year after year. Like the “asymptotic” lines I studied in calculus years ago, as one of those students from East L.A., that performance target seems to always be out of reach.
The academic performance standards for a school, the API being one, are what they are. Some dispute their validity and say they reflect over reliance on narrow measures of academic performance. Yet, I would argue that the API is better than nothing and it does offer a basic ruler to measure against in the context of other considerations. They do promote accountability on the part of the school and serve as a baseline from which to track progress. For example, the elementary school that I attended in East L.A. as a kid raised its API score by 70% over the ten year period between 2000 and 2010. The expectation would be that there will come a time when more and more schools in East L.A. will begin to cross that magic “800″ threshold. Let’s hope that Fourth Street Elementary is such a sentinel school.
If it’s not. East L.A. is in deep trouble. Why so? Consider that a recent report, “The College Payoff,” from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that “a college degree is key to economic opportunity, conferring substantially higher earnings on those with credentials than those without.” In general, the more education, the more one earns. For example, a high school dropout can be expected to earn almost 60% less over a lifetime than a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, the same study found that “Latinos lag behind Whites and Asians at all levels of educational attainment.” So the lost opportunities due to poor academic performance are tragically significant with a long-term effect, economically, politically. and socially.
The high school dropout rate in California is 18.2%, as just recently reported in August by the California Department of Education for 2009-2010. It is 21% for Los Angeles County. For the Montebello Unified School District it is 15.9%. For the Los Angeles Unified School District the dropout rate is 24.5%. These are the two districts serving East L..A. Statewide, 22.7% of Latinos drop out of high school. That’s almost a fourth of our students never even making it out of high school, much less going on to college!
You see how that all goes back to what’s happening in East L.A.?
So what’s a parent in East L.A. to do? That’s not an easy answer. Finding a suitable answer requires commitment and dedication to a quality education for your kids. One option is to search for a “good” school to enroll the kids in. Some in East L.A. are utilizing the “attendance permit” process for getting access to more desirable schools within their own district or in other neighboring districts. But that option is limited by space, categorical, and timeline restrictions, as well as having to arrange transportation to a school likely to be further away. Getting through the process can be challenging with no guarantee of success.
Hoping to fill that very same parental need for a good school, the KIPP Raices Academy, a tuition-free public charter elementary school in East L.A., has been wooing parents since 2008 with its “excellence from the beginning” tag line. Their pleas may be working. The school is completely full for this school year. They reportedly only accepted two students into the 2nd grade class. Unfortunately, the new site does not provide any additional capacity. A limited number of new students may be accepted next school year, but there is a lottery process to get thru to be admitted once applications are accepted in January 2012.
As if to tout that they are here to stay, Raices Academy just moved into their new, permanent home (pictured at top) at the site of a former Big Lots store, the building remodeled and sporting bright new colors, on the corner of Atlantic Boulevard. and Hubbard Street in East L.A. Its old site on Dozier Avenue in East L.A. will close down once the move is completed. Because this school is fairly new, it may be a little too early to tell if they are doing what they claim to be doing. Because of the type of school it is, it does not get assigned an API score *, so comparison against the traditional public schools is difficult. The school, however, claims its students are performing “ahead of expectations in both math and reading.”
So when school starts anew as summer ends, and the stomping of little feet fills the school yards of East L.A., remember we need to rekindle their passion for learning and support their struggles every step of the way for their journey is a trying one. We owe them no less than expecting the most.
Clarification: Raices Academy was not assigned an API score in the 2010 base year. However, the 2011 results show an API of 963.
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