LAUSD’s troubles can no longer be ignored

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It’s test time for California schools, and again, it was the L.A. Unified School District that failed its students miserably.

A recently released Harvard study found public education in California to be in worse shape than the schools have been reporting, and now the damage control begins.

Here we go again.

Queue the surprised local and state politicians.

Queue the school official who claims to have no idea the numbers were as bad as the study found.

Queue a governor who says education should be a top priority (then looks to see what corners can be cut).

Just for fun, mix in a local mayoral election, along with the token promises to fix education and make it the best in the nation, even though the candidates hold no jurisdiction to do so. They’ll say we need to do something to stop the decline, and then come up with a fancy system of collecting numbers that does nothing but illustrate favorable numbers in the future to buy some time until the next study is released.

Phew, that was a close one.

Meanwhile, more than half of African American and Latinos students fail to graduate high school within four years in the LAUSD. That means most of them drop out and never gain a high school education, except for the rare few who come back and pass the GED.

This song and dance number is old, and it doesn’t surprise parents or students in the public school system, especially the lucky few who passed through the gauntlet that is the LAUSD educational system, such as myself.

The numbers are indeed alarming, although not surprising. According to the study, public schools in California are in very bad shape, and our very own LAUSD is atop of the heap.

Only 39 percent of Latinos and 47 percent of African American students will graduate in four years in the LAUSD.

This is especially alarming considering about three-fourths of LAUSD’s 741,000 students are Latino. And if only 39 percent of those students graduate high school in four years, then who exactly are they teaching?

But of course, LAUSD officials have expressed nothing but surprise at the numbers, at times claiming the way the numbers were collected is faulty.

But considering the number of students is cut by half every grade level in some high schools in the LAUSD, the findings seem to be conservative. The senior class at some high schools is only half the size of the junior class, which is half the size of the sophomore class, which is half the size of the freshman class, and these same high schools still report a dropout rate that is below 25 percent at times. No one seems to know where all those students are going, but even a high school dropout can figure out that this is some sort of funny math.

Unfortunately, it is also painfully obvious that the dropout rate at some high schools is incredibly high as compared to other schools, boosting up the rate for the entire system. Why these particular schools loose more students compared to others needs to be examined.

Schools who lose students more tend to be inner city campuses, where the population tends to be overwhelmingly Latino or African American. While some schools claim frustration at not being able to increase the number of students admitted into college, these schools are struggling to get students to make it to 10th grade.

But the problem does not even begin there. Stories of students dropping out in middle school are not rare, and many are not prepared in basic skills by the time they reach high school. Some students cannot even read by ninth grade, so what incentive do they have to make it to senior year?

But as everyone expresses frustration and surprise at such a high dropout rate, the public school system in California remains under attack. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes paying teachers according to test results, rather than tenure, even though the LAUSD is having a hard enough time recruiting and maintaining teachers. As if the cost of living and the abhorrent teaching conditions faced in the LAUSD wasn’t enough, the governor proposes to take away teachers’ only incentive at better pay in the future, and instead seems to prefer they to move to states where they can afford homes and teach students who are prepared.

Meanwhile, our classrooms continue to overcrowd, teachers have so many students they can’t keep track of names and faces, much less track progress, and the teaching environment for those teachers brave enough to stay continues to worsen.

It does not take a study to point out that the time for empty rhetoric is over.

What will our state legislators and local representatives do to fix our public education system? There needs to be more reaction to such findings other than the expected gasp of surprise from legislators.

The solution is not to mindlessly toss money at our public schools, either. We need a plan to save them.

We need to provide schools with the right equipment to teach students. The LAUSD needs to acknowledge these student’s special needs, and find a proper way to address this group, which includes increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking students in elementary schools, and a vast majority of inner-city youth, who need after-school programs to enhance their education, and keep them focused on their books, not the streets.

After all, parents and students deserve to look forward to something in education besides the next failed test.