Los Angeles: A charter objects to school rankings

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jun 12 15:15:56 UTC 2008

A charter objects to school rankings

After our post yesterday about the report comparing charter schools to
regular public schools, we heard from one charter whose director
objected to the list of the bottom-ranked charters in the study.
Marcos Aguilar writes:

On June 10, 2008, you posted a list of "Bottom 5 Charters" in an entry
on the Los Angeles Times Blog, The Homeroom, among which our school,
Academia Semillas del Pueblo, was included. According to the Los
Angeles Time Ethics Policy, "People who will be shown in an adverse
light in an article must be given a meaningful opportunity to defend
themselves. This means making a good-faith effort to give the subject
of allegations or criticism sufficient time and information to respond
substantively. Whenever possible, the reporter should meet
face-to-face with the subject in a sincere effort to understand his or
her best arguments." It goes on to say, "Our coverage should avoid
simplistic portrayals." As a matter of fact, no one in our school was
notified of this planned publication by LA Times staff, we were not
given any opportunity to defend ourselves, nor any opportunity to
rebut this simplistic, albeit negative, portrayal of our school.

I write to express my protest with this list and our inclusion on any
"worse schools" list. Academia Semillas del Pueblo excels at what it
does, providing an excellent education to historically disenfranchised
and educationally disadvantaged children in East Los Angeles where
school violence, perennially low performing schools and overcrowded
classrooms are the norm. More importantly, Academia serves students
who are discriminated against by the LAUSD, because their first
language is not English. When students whose mother tongue is a
language other than English, they are condemned to a ball and chain
educational program that attempts, through drill and kill
methodologies, to force-feed them English language instruction -– to
the detriment of all else. To make matters worse, District school
culture is typically also alienating to non-English speaking parents,
and adults who have been educated abroad, further placing children at
risk educationally, by crippling their support network at home.

Moreover, our school is not just like any other school. It is an
Indigenous community-based school, meaning that it is a response to a
demand made by families in our community for a culturally relevant
education that honors our mother tongues as a foundational strength
instead of as a deficiency, in our case these languages are Nahuatl
and Spanish. I know of no school in Los Angeles that can offer this
alternative, and definitely no other school that teaches ANY
Indigenous language. Yet, our students don't merely learn respect for
their family culture and language, they also study Chinese, and
progress quite well in learning English through a Spanish/English
90/10 dual immersion program. Not to mention that our students and
teachers have been immersed in the International Baccalaureate
programs, as we prepare them to be future leaders by offering a
world-class educational model.

The LA Times "Bottom 5 Charters" list of course considers none of the
above. It is an oversimplification of very complex social entities -–
schools. However, even when compared to the three schools ours was
compared to, Buchanan, Bitely, and Dorris, the LA Times could have
asked, "How do English Learners fare in these schools?" Especially
because you wrote, "One area where charters lagged, Wohlstetter's
report noted, was the performance of students not fluent in English.
That was an area of mixed results in the charter school association
report, where regular district schools did better overall in the
elementary grades, but not in middle or high schools." When comparing
Academia's student performance in the California English Language
Development Test (CELDT) as compared to these three schools, important
indices of success surface. On average, only 29% of the English
Language Learner students at the three comparison schools combined
achieved Advanced or Early Advanced levels of proficiency in English
this year, compared to 41% overall at Academia. While an astounding
86% of our sixth graders achieved Advanced or Early Advanced English
proficiency, which speaks greatly of our students' ability to learn
English through our model. This is yet another important fact omitted
by your piece -- that the model of language instruction matters.
Simple logic would clarify why our students may not fare as well on
English-only standardized tests while they are still acquiring
English. In our model of language instruction, students from kinder
through fourth grade are taught academic content primarily in Spanish.
This is a well-researched and proven model of language instruction
that shows its best results when students begin to acquire greater
levels of academic fluency in English AND Spanish after five to eight
years of instruction, or from the fifth through the eighth grades. In
approving a full five year renewal of our k-8 charter last academic
year, LAUSD staff wrote of our school, "LAUSD's Program Evaluation and
Research Branch conducted a "Value Added" study of the school's test
scores, the results of which suggest that: a. Cohorts of students at
Academia experienced growth in grades 5 and 6 that was substantially
higher than the LAUSD mean in English Language Arts. b. Cohorts of
students at Academia experienced growth in grade 5 that was slightly
above the LAUSD mean and in grade 6 that was substantially higher than
the LAUSD mean in Math." This is an important measurement of our
school's accomplishments with our students, but by no means the only

Your article raises an interesting and controversial question, "how
should we measure charter school performance?" I suggest that the best
way to measure our school's performance is to compare apples to
apples. Dual immersion programs to dual immersion programs for
example, Native language programs to native language programs, Chinese
language learning to Chinese language learning and opportunities for
disadvantaged youth overall. In comparing our school's API score of
622, I would suggest you compare our school to other dual immersion
schools in LAUSD. Of thirty-two dual immersion programs that exist in
LAUSD however, only one is a 90/10 model and only five others are even
close. This is important because research indicates that these more
intense models yield the best results, and because other models
include a much greater percentage of English language instruction,
thereby creating a very different model. When Academia is compared to
the six similar dual immersion schools in LAUSD (Hillcrest, Grand
View, Meyler, Montara, & Weigand), our school rates competitively and
in some respects far better. The average API score of these schools is
662, only forty points greater. However, our sister dual immersion
schools only averaged a 2 point growth in their performance compared
to a 37 point improvement for Academia. One of our sister dual
immersion schools scored 574 this past year. Should we compare rates
of parent participation? Parent satisfaction? Student safety and
engagement? Community empowerment? I could go on. As taxpayers, our
parents know that their dollars are better spent at our school than
anywhere else they could enroll their children in Los Angeles, because
not only do we offer more for less, but we offer their children what
the District is incapable of doing thus far, a community-defined
quality education for all.

Marcos Aguilar,
Tlayecantzi Executive Director
Semillas Sociedad Civil


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