Left behind in Silicon Valley

“When I came to this country, I saw the American dream. You get an education, go to college . . . Even American citizens can’t get the American dream now,” says Roberto Aguirrez, a parent group leader, in Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools. I wrote the report for Innovate Public Schools.

Aguirrez is working to bring a charter K-8 school to Morgan Hill, the San Jose suburb where he lives. But it won’t happen soon enough for his fifth-grade daughter. If he can’t get her into a good charter middle school — there are wait lists at all the high-performing charters — he’ll pay for private school.

“You know that movie? I’m not waiting for Superman,” he says.

Aguirrez and his wife earned college degrees. They were able to help their daughter with homework when she fell behind. They could afford to hire a tutor. When teachers said their kids were doing “OK,” they could read the report card and see that wasn’t true. Most Latino parents don’t know their children are scoring below basic, says Aguirrez.

Silicon Valley draws talented people from around the world. In 2011, 64 percent of the valley’s college-educated, high-tech professionals were born outside the U.S.

Only about one in five Latino and black students in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is on track to complete high school in four years and go on to college, and even fewer will qualify for a high-tech job.

It’s not hopeless. The Alum Rock elementary district, which serves a low-income, heavily immigrant neighborhood in east San Jose, used to have dreadful schools. PACT, a church-based parent group, demanded the district authorize charter schools and start new, small autonomous schools (a bit like Boston’s “pilot” schools). The new schools are doing very well and the traditional district schools are improving. Alum Rock parents have real choices now.

Charters and Alum Rock’s autonomous schools dominate the top-ranked schools for Latino success, notes the  San Jose Mercury News. (Innovate ranked schools with at least 38 percent Latino enrollment, the region average.)

The top five middle schools for Latino algebra proficiency are KIPP Heartwood charter in Alum Rock at 81 percent; Renaissance Academy at 59 percent and Adelante at 53 percent, both in Alum Rock; Solorsano Middle in Gilroy at 48 percent and ACE Charter in San Jose at 47 percent.

At Jefferson High in Daly City, 78 percent of Latino students graduate UC/CSU ready — the highest percentage among comprehensive high schools. Other schools with high percentages of college-ready Latino grads are six charters: Summit Preparatory in Redwood City at 90 percent; KIPP San Jose Collegiate at 83 percent, Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix at 62 percent, Downtown College Preparatory at 49 percent, Leadership Public Schools-San Jose at 46 percent and Latino College Preparatory at 39 percent.

In Morgan Hill, where Aguirrez and his wife are raising their children, 9 percent of Latino high school graduates qualify for state universities. (Update: The district says the number is off because one of its high schools was left out of state data.) Right next door in Gilroy, which has more Latino and low-income students, 20 percent are college eligible. Gilroy also has two elementary schools that make the top 10 list for Latino success in reading and math. Why can’t Morgan Hill do as well as Gilroy?

Educating the children of poorly educated, low-income, immigrant parents is very difficult. But some schools are showing it’s possible.

To fix college, ban ‘I feel’

Among One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education collected by the National Association of Scholars, Naomi Schaefer Riley proposes a campaign against narcissism. She recalls a reality show called The Scholar in which ten high school seniors competed for a college scholarship.  Asked what famous person, dead or alive, she’d like to have dinner with, Melissa answered Plato. She said she’d “read his story about the cave” and wanted to “discuss her own ‘process of self-discovery’ with him.” Melissa won the scholarship.

Everything about college and the process leading to it makes students believe that their innermost feelings are of the utmost importance. Professors (the good ones, anyway) complain that students begin every answer with “I feel.” This is emblematic of a certain self-absorption combined with postmodern fuzzy thinking.

. . . Every paper turned in during the first year of college should depend entirely for its argument on the writings and thoughts of others without any reference to the student’s personal experience. The writing should include a general thesis backed up by specific quotations or examples from third parties. The only way to make eighteen-year-olds into intelligible writers and speakers is to force them to look beyond themselves.

Riley is the author of The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For.

Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute calls for banning grade inflation: ”Pass a federal law that no teacher in a college or university that receives federal funds shall be allowed to award an A to more than 7 percent of the students in any course, and a B to more than an additional 18 percent.”

I’d like to tell ninth graders whether they’re on track to earn a bachelor’s degree, train for a skilled job, flunk out of a community college remedial course or drop out of high school. If they knew early enough, they could work harder to improve their odds — or set more realistic goals. Colleges wouldn’t have to provide so many remedial courses, which usually come too late to help.

Voc ed vs. music, art, foreign language

Music and art teachers are complaining about a new California law that expands graduation requirements:  Students can take one career or technical education course in place of art, music or a foreign language, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Arts and foreign-language courses are twice as likely as vocational classes to be certified as college-prep courses, so students who choose career tech could be ineligible to go from high school directly to the University of California and California State University systems.

Some urban districts, such as Oakland Unified, San Jose Unified and East Side Union in San Jose, use UC’s college-prep curriculum as their graduation requirement.

The new law will lead to two tiers, of college-prepared and unprepared students, opponents say.

Proponents disagree. “We already have a two-track system,” said Eric Guerra of (Assemblyman Warren) Furutani’s staff. “It’s called college or nothing.” Students who aren’t on a college track leave school without useful skills, he said. California’s class of 2010 graduation rate is a dismal 74.4 percent. “There’s got to be a different way to deliver secondary education,” he said. “The status quo is not working.”

The law’s opponents seem to think that many students will prefer career tech to music, art or foreign language. If so, why force them to take  art or music to earn a diploma?

AVID benefits are slight in Chicago study

AVID, which teaches study skills and tries to put average students on the college path, has spread across the country since its start in San Diego in 1980. But at 14 low-performing Chicago high schools, AVID didn’t improve grades significantly enough to put students on track for graduation, according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, reports Ed Week.

In a report previewed (pdf) at the American Educational Research Association convention in New Orleans in April, researchers compared Chicago ninth graders participating in AVID with similar students who didn’t have access to AVID. After one year of the four-year program, AVID participants’  grades averaged 2.32 in English and 1.9 in mathematics on a 4-point scale, slightly higher than non-participants’ GPAs, but not good enough to be considered on track for graduation.  AVID didn’t improve reading, math or science test scores significantly.

Robert P. Gira, the executive vice president of the San Diego-based AVID, said the Chicago study was too short-term to be conclusive, because student academic gains from AVID build over a student’s high school career. “We expect 9th graders to be making some progress, but the real payoffs start to happen two to three years later,” Mr. Gira said.

AVID recruits students who aren’t on track for college but aren’t at the bottom of the class either. In my part of California, ninth graders must be prepared to take algebra, which California defines as an eighth-grade subject. (Not that most kids actually learn it in eighth grade.)  Students take college-prep classes and a daily AVID class, where they learn note-taking skills, time management and “critical thinking.” They also receive tutoring, counseling and help applying for college and financial aid.

Four years of a daily AVID class may not be the best use of time, Doug Rohrer, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida, told Ed Week.

“The critical question in my mind,” Mr. Rohrer continued, “is whether AVID is better than requiring students to go to another class, such as an extra dose of math or writing. Learning how to take notes is a fine strategy, but it might not help you in Algebra 2 if you haven’t learned Algebra 1.”

AVID was started at schools that mixed low-income and middle-class students, Ed Week reports. But it’s spread to predominantly low-income schools where AVID students aren’t really average: They’re the highest achievers around.

Chicago’s AVID students reported slightly better study habits than non-AVID peers, the study found. That may pay off over time. But “their classroom experiences are very similar to those of their classmates,” said Jenny Nagaoka, co-author of the study.