Sun, Sep

New Los Angeles and KIPP Comienza: Charters That Get It Right

EDUCATION POLITICS-Today in the vast majority of charter schools in Los Angeles and around the country, charters have been forced to incorporate the worst practices of dysfunctional public school districts like the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), simply because of the absolute charter oversight power that continues to be given to districts like LAUSD over charters as their oversight (Local Education Agency) LEA. One might simply say that the LAUSD fox has been left guarding the charter chicken coup to ensure that they are not successful, since charter success would naturally pose the question: If these charters can educate these students than why can't LAUSD? 

In addition to the absolute LEA oversight control that can end the very existence of a charter by entities like LAUSD under state law, no public school- and that includes charters- can function without a Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA) in place to cover the potentially extreme expense of special needs students with Individual Education Plans (IEP) that could bankrupt an individual charter school, unless it was underwritten by a public school district the size of LAUSD with its own SELPA. 

However, in order for charters to be allowed into LAUSD's SELPA- again, a legally necessary requirement for being a public school in California, they must agree to all of LAUSD's conditions on their charter that pretty much are designed by LAUSD to assure that there will be no innovative approach to education that might show up LAUSD by achieving results with the same student population that LAUSD has continued to fail with for generations. 

It is for this reason that it is all the more astounding when at least some charter schools can recapture some of their historic innovative pragmatism by nonetheless achieving excellence at any level in the face of LAUSD standing in their way. 

KIPP Comienza and New Los Angeles charters are two notable exceptions to the premeditate failure of the vast majority of charter schools that have LAUSD as their LEA oversight, while being further compromised by being in LAUSD's SELPA. In 2013 KIPP Comienza had the incredible 978 API scores with a close to 100% Latino population- a result unequal anywhere in Los Angeles or elsewhere by a public school with the same poor and minority population. 

However, their excellence has created a problem: When these highly educated students leave this elementary school oasis of best education practices, they are faced with not being able to find a middle school or subsequent high school with a student population as rigorously prepared as they are. What they come up against is a failed middle and high school environment with only the slogans and without the substance of excellence that had allowed these students to reach their potential in the first place. 

While New Los Angeles Charter Middle School has not had as successful results with their API scores in 2013: Whites 885, Blacks 772, and Latinos 725, what makes this school stand out as a beacon of hope in an otherwise dismal Los Angeles public school environment is their steadfast commitment to high achieving education for all of their purposefully integrated student population. But most importantly, New Los Angeles Charter is also seriously examining what factors have stopped them up until now from achieving this goal. 

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What New Los Angeles Charter Director Dr. Matt Alpert and a supportive board have identified as limiting the improvement of all their students is that the academic achievement of both their high functioning and predominantly White students and their relatively lower functioning and predominantly Black and Latino students is the inordinate amount of time necessary to bring these lower functioning students- often years behind grade level- up to their grade-level achieving peers. 

Given that the curriculum time is already full accounted for with lessons necessary to finish any specific class at any specific grade-level, there literally is no time to get these lower functioning and socially promoted students caught up without negatively impacting the time of all the students- even those already at grade level. This puts all students at a disadvantage. 

After all, it stands to reason that if years of prior grade-level standards mastery were not an indispensible prerequisite to normal functioning in middle and high school, why would these grade-levels and their standard exist in the first place? 

And yet, the magical thinking of LAUSD and most other charters seem to think that good vibes and positive thinking are a viable alternative to true and timely academic rigor- they are not.

Rather then continue this onerous and demoralizing task of trying to get students caught up, what Director Alpert proposes is that New City Charter start its own feeder elementary school, where in lieu of social promotion, the assets of the school are disproportinately spent not on the students already at grade-level, but rather on the students behind grade-level. 

This is based on the idea that the earlier a student's deficits are addressed, the more likely they are to subsequently be successful in middle and high school and throughout the rest of their lives- which also has the collateral benefit of eliminating what has become the endemic bad behavior issues hobbling most other charters and school districts, because of their stubborn refusal to address these academic deficits in a timely manner. 

Maybe it has already occurred to you that there might be a solution to both Kipp Comienza and New City Charter's complimentary and interdependent problems. Could Kipp become a feeder school for New City Charter, since so doing would give Kipp students a high functioning middle school to go into, while giving New Los Angeles Charter the high functioning at grade-level students necessary to take advantage of its rigorous program? 

Could this also serve as a prototype for other schools- charter or otherwise- that are serious about achieving independently verifiable excellence in lieu of what continues to be the empty and disingenuous rhetoric of everybody is going to college without ensuring the skills that could actually get students there and successfully through it.

Remember, 75% of all new junior college students are taking remedial and not college level courses.


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He’s a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected] ) 






Vol 13 Issue 27

Pub: Mar 31, 2015