‘Distinguished’ — and needing improvement

Although it’s rated by California as a “distinguished school,” Napa High School is in its second year of program improvement because it missed No Child Left Behind targets for bringing English Learners to grade level. The target was 22.3 percent; the category includes students who’ve been reclassified as fluent in English but haven’t tested as proficient for three years in a row. The San Francisco Chronicle opens:

The case of Napa High illustrates the central dilemma Congress is wrestling with: Are kids helped or harmed by requiring them to score at grade level in math and English?

Call on me! Call on me!

Despite its distinguished rating, Napa High has a large gap between white and Hispanic students (nearly all students are one or the other) and an even larger gap between poor and non-poor students.

Before it fell afoul of NCLB, Napa High offered extra help “to the lowest of the low performers,” the Chron reports. Now every ninth- and 10th-grader scoring below grade level gets help.

Principal Barbara Franco complains the law is draconian, but admits that getting all students to grade level is a worthy goal. Some teachers disagree.

At Napa this year, Program Improvement forced many students to postpone — though not eliminate — electives so they could double up on math and English. And most teachers had to take a class to learn to use a new anthology text from Holt Publishers that has worksheets, benchmark tests and an essay-grading program. The anthology, with its plot summaries and helpful prompts, replaced literature this year for more than 360 ninth- and 10th-graders.

After teaching English for 18 years, Hilary Zunin quit after learning that most freshmen and sophomores would be reading the Holt anthology. (Some 45 percent of ninth graders and 57 percent of 10th graders test below grade level in reading.)

“There are a lot of people living good lives in this country who aren’t able to write a cohesive paragraph and don’t know grammar,” Zunin said. “I’m more concerned about them being able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes — which is the essence of To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m more concerned with them being able to feel compassion and to question authority in a constructive way, which is the essence of Night. I’m more concerned with them looking at the nature of friendship, which is at the heart of Of Mice and Men. “

Was she teaching “love of literature” to students who can’t read? She must have been quite a teacher. Or perhaps she thought it’s enough to turn out compassionate young people who can prune a vine, drive a tractor and pour wine for tourists.

Low-scoring students are using a computer program to learn basic reading skills. They like it.

“It helps you learn how to spell the words better, and you get to understand what they’re reading,” said Araceli (Hernandez), who was born in Jalisco, Mexico. “It was difficult last year because I couldn’t understand how to do paragraphs and everything. But now that I got into this program, it’s better.”

If students like Araceli can learn the basics of reading and writing in ninth grade, they can move on to literature in 10th or 11th grade. They can take electives when they’ve mastered essentials. And they’re more likely to love learning once they’ve got a foundation for learning.

NCLB is working exactly as advertised when it forces schools with good overall scores to look closely at the performance of subgroups, such as English Learners.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. I teach biology at a community college and am frequently amazed at the fact that my students can’t write a coherent sentence (including a subject and verb, even if their tenses don’t agree). Quotes from Ms. Zunin might explain why.

  2. Your closing sentence hits the nail on the head. Bravo.

    Napa presents unique case studies because so many of its schools are ‘white or brown’, with very few Asians or blacks. This makes (racial) analysis much easier.

    When I was getting my CLAD (cross-cultural, language, and academic development–think bilingual) certification, one of our instructors had us watch a video on the success story that is the Napa Valley Language Academy. (Hint: it’s no success story, despite being presented to us as an exemplar.) I wrote about the experience here:
    http://rightontheleftcoast.blogspot.com/2005/04/bilingual-education-part-iv-horrible.html

  3. not so unique at Napa… an easy white-Latino comparison is true for many of the schools that report a white/Latino gap (nearly 700 state wide) Napa’s the 27th worst and there are distinguished school with even more gaping differences.

  4. Joanne,

    I agree! I posted about this same story and a similar one congratulating a school for making a 42 point API gain, but when you looked at their test scores, there were HUGE achievement gaps. This is typical of the denial of many educators when it comes to achievement gaps. They think because their white and Asian kids are scoring well, that the school is doing well. That’s why we have NCLB in the first place.

    Keep up the great work.

    Dave

  5. Robert Wright says:

    Too often we confuse teaching literature with teaching the basic skills of reading and writing.

    Why? Because they’re traditionally taught in the same class.

    It would make just as much sense to teach reading and writing in history or science class.

    Yes, students who are behind in reading skills need extra class time for remediation, but there are only so many minutes in the instructional day.

    The question is, what do we want to throw out? Of Mice and Men or The Civil War?

    Too bad state law says it can never be P.E.

  6. “It would make just as much sense to teach reading and writing in history or science class.”

    In fact, that’s what history and science *should* address: reading comprehension.

  7. Call me a cynic, but I’d like see how Mr. Ramirez is doing at Brown.

  8. “NCLB is working exactly as advertised” — *exactly*.

    Which means that our public schools are becoming institutions for teaching English As A Second Language.

    What about those students for whom English is NOT a second language?

    They are languishing in public schools, because they are NOT being taught! Standard curriculum is being thrown overboard in order to teach ESOL students. Everyone else might as well rot in hell.

    If you can’t afford private schools and you have a native English-speaking student, that student IS being short-changed.

    About two hours a week has been carved out of standard curriculum in our school district for *all* elementary students to learn Spanish (ain’t that a twist?). Well, what are the native Spanish-speaking students doing during that time? Do you think this school district is already ringing the brass-bell on the three R’s, or do you think maybe that two hours a week could be going to teaching non-Spanish-speaking fundamentals? When you consider all the hours wasted in a school week for non-academic matters, it is truly surprising that anyone with any commonsense expects American students coming from a public education to have a competitive intellectual capacity.

  9. Decisions have to made. Which is in society’s interest? Too concentrate on assuring that all kids get, at least, a decent education or to write off a whole segment of society to make sure a relative few get a good education?

    If that were the choice you could hardly choose else but the former. The latter lays the foundation for a de facto class system and that’s not good for the health of a democracy.

    But that wasn’t the choice because the public education system wasn’t doing a terrific job for smart kids while ignoring the dumb kids.

  10. cj asked: “What about those students for whom English is NOT a second language?”

    They aren’t enrolled in ELD classes.

    “Everyone else might as well rot in hell.”

    Probably not, but let’s not let facts get in the way of good hyperbole. What the article demonstrated is those “rot[ting] in hell” students were doing just swell. They were, in fact, distinguished. What the article demonstrated is schools do a fine job educating well-off kids from Napa. It’s the children of the grape-pickers they don’t know what to do with, and furthermore, want nothing to do with, choosing retirement over adjustment and change.

    “If you can’t afford private schools and you have a native English-speaking student, that student IS being short-changed.”

    Most available data suggest otherwise.

  11. “There are a lot of people living good lives in this country who aren’t able to write a cohesive paragraph and don’t know grammar,” Zunin said. “I’m more concerned about them being able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes

    This is the kind of statement that, after you’ve read it for the thousandth or ten thousandth time, radicalizes parents.

    Apart from the simple fact that Ms. Zunin has presumably not been certified, or hired, to teach empathy, the arrogance of the woman is intolerable.

    These are not her children.

    It is not Ms. Zunin’s place to decide what abilities her students should or should not acquire in school. Her wages are paid by taxpayers; taxpayers have made it as clear as anything can possibly be that they want high school graduates to be able to write a cohesive paragraph and express themselves grammatically.

    If Ms. Zunin wants to teach empathy and concern for other people, if that is what interests her, she should seek another line of work, or find satisfying volunteer work.

  12. Catherine Johnson spoketh thusly:

    “These are not her children.”

    And so? She is a trained educator, better able than thee and me to navigate the shoals of reason on which we might founder. Not for nothing did Cornelius Fudge appoint her High Inquisitor!

    I’m happy to pay my taxes so that she can ensure that my children will have little or no competition when they graduate.

  13. I’m happy to pay my taxes so that she can ensure that my children will have little or no competition when they graduate.

    you have a point

  14. wait a minute!

    what am I saying!?

    you have no point!

    stop it!

  15. let me just add that the only reason I haven’t complained about the use of “cohesive paragraph” in lieu of “coherent paragraph” is that I recently discovered the term “cohesion device,” which I plan to bandy about with vigor

  16. Quoth Catherine Johnson:

    “…which I plan to bandy about with vigor”

    Vigor, yes, but please, no rigour. Rigour kills the essential “critical thinking skills” that fuzzy math tries so hard to teach our kids.

    Rigour would sneer at the claim that 1 + 1 = 3, but that would be wrong. How do we know that it isn’t so on Mongo, under Ming the Merciless?


  17. “It would make just as much sense to teach reading and writing in history or science class.”

    In fact, that’s what history and science *should* address: reading comprehension.”

    Interestingly enough, I spend just about as much time in my 7th grade class teaching reading comprehension (especially when it comes to content area reading) as I do actually teaching science content. It astounds me how little instruction my students actually have in reading a science text, a newspaper, or even a report. If it doesn’t have a main character and a story, many of them are lost.