The Learning Curve: In Search of a Middle Ground on Struggling Schools - Voice of San Diego

Education UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

The Learning Curve: In Search of a Middle Ground on Struggling Schools

The state’s list of under-performing schools should be an urgent reminder to our elected officials – both local school board leaders and the state politicians who decide how much money they get – that they are failing to give every child a shot at a quality education.

King-Chavez High School
King-Chavez High School / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

These are the 58 schools that most urgently need help in San Diego County.

The schools on this list are among the lowest 8 percent in the state in terms of performance data, according to a new state analysis. The high schools have extremely low graduation rates. The other schools are rated near the bottom in most performance metrics tracked by the state.

Thousands of human children – each one of them far less likely to succeed than their peers in other schools – attend these struggling schools every day. These children are more likely to be brown and poor than white and affluent. They are less likely to graduate, less likely to attend college, less likely to get a good job and more likely to go to jail. Do we have a plan for them?

Making lists like this is controversial. One need look no further than the release of the data last Thursday to understand the shifting dynamics of education politics. State officials quietly published the full list of under-performing schools, which is required by federal law, without even issuing a press release.

In years past, when charter school advocates had the political swagger, ranking schools was more in vogue. Many states still use an A-F grading system – California does not – to rate schools. But, as teachers’ unions and their supporters have rightly pointed out, what those rankings actually tell us is fuzzy. They may say more about a school’s poverty level, for instance, than whether teachers are doing a good job educating students. The grades have also been used to shut down schools, which can cause more harm than good.

But there should be a middle ground between grading schools and making no effort to publicly identify those in dire need of help.

This list is not, and it should not be, about generating shame. There are a great many teachers and administrators in the schools on this list, who show up to work every day and do their very best. Smart students are working hard at these schools. Tireless parents are reading to their kids every night. And yet something is going wrong. The list should be an urgent reminder to our elected officials – both local school board leaders and the state politicians who decide how much money they get – that they are failing to give every child a shot at a quality education.

As a public, we should be talking about these schools every day, wondering how we can help. At every board meeting, union members should be wearing T-shirts that name all of them in their districts; they should be angrily demanding answers from politicians on what they plan to do about them.

Politicians and superintendents assure us over and over again that they are internally paying attention to this data and working very hard to improve the schools in their district. That may be somewhat true. But history is very clear: Without public pressure, politicians do not act. The schools on this list require bold solutions and an extraordinary investment of resources that politicians are not even currently discussing. Until they do, we will continue to fail many black, brown and poor students.

Ed News

VOSD’s Ed Stories

  • This story by Maya Srikrishnan is a major bummer – isn’t that always the way with good journalism? – but also a really absorbing read about an East County student who went all the way through school misdiagnosed with a disability, simply because English wasn’t her first language. “Nationally, English-learners are far more likely to be identified as having a specific learning disability,” Sriksrishnan writes.
  • In our ongoing investigation into sexual misconduct in schools, Kayla Jimenez and I reported on a disturbing trend: Teachers who’ve been investigated for misconduct and forced out in one school district, but go on to work in others.
  • Oh, and the federal government’s financial watchdog, the SEC, is looking into Sweetwater Union’s finances.
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