Two students, two schools

In Two students, two schools, the LA Times looks at 11th grade boys with similar aspirations and very different chances of success. Kyle Gosselin, the son of lawyers, takes advanced classes at high-scoring La  Cañada High in southern California.  Henry Ramirez, son of immigrant health workers, goes to gang-ridden Jefferson High, which graduates only 27 percent of ninth graders in four years; only 16 percent take a college-prep curriculum. (His family moves to Texas in the middle of the school year.) Both earn A’s and B’s — mostly — and aspire to careers in medicine. But Henry, who’s moved from school to school, taken watered-down classes, flunked geometry and skipped taking the PSAT, has no real college plans. Kyle has plans.

Any visitor to your two schools can’t help but notice that the La Cañada students, while hardly perfect, seem more focused, more driven to succeed than the average student at Jefferson. It’s something that deeply frustrates Juan Flecha, the Jefferson principal. “They’re such nice kids,” he said of his pupils, adding: “They’re so unmotivated.”

The “culture that students bring to a school” is a big part of the achievement gap, writes Heather Mac Donald in The Corner.

Without question, children in an inner-city school face obstacles to learning that middle- and upper-income students can little imagine — constant moves from one community to another; lack of privacy at home for studying; less competent, if not outright unqualified, teachers; parents who lack the academic knowledge to supplement their children’s school instruction; and a peer culture that stigmatizes effort. But that last factor — peer attitudes towards learning — is not a question of public or private resources but is part of the culture that students bring to a school.

Kyle is taking community college classes this summer. Henry hopes to return to LA to hang out with friends.

Kids like Henry would achieve more if more was asked of them. He doesn’t know how to prepare to earn a college degree. His parents — dad’s a high school dropout, mom had two college years in El Salvador — don’t know what it takes.  My book, Our School, (available in hardcover or paperback), is about a school called Downtown College Prep that focuses relentlessly on ensuring that kids like Henry take college-prep courses, earn grades based on real achievement and make realistic college plans. The educational philosophy is: Work your butt off. Which kids from poor and working-class immigrant families will do once they’re persuaded it will get them where they want to go.

About Joanne


  1. I notice the writer leaves out the biggest reason schools in La Canada are good–JPL is right up the road.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    We’re getting close to being judgmental about cultures here.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this article, having been referred to it by ASCD. It spoke volumes about what I see every day in the inner city school where I work. When the LAUSD boy did not show up for the PSAT because they had out of town company, I knew I had heard similar stories from my students. People in the suburbs just do not understand.