Half the teachers at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles were fired this month as part of the latest plan to turn around the low-performing school, writes Dana Goldstein. The “conversion” got rid of Alex Caputo-Pearl, an activist teacher and reform leader. One of the first Teach for America recruits in 1990, Caputo-Pearl taught in high-poverty Los Angeles schools for more than two decades. He helped design the Extended Learning Cultural Model, which drew federal and philanthropic dollars to the troubled high school. He led Crenshaw’s Social Justice and Law Academy, a small school within the school with high expectations.
For their final project, (10th graders) had to analyze a data set that included test scores at various schools; neighborhood income levels; school truancy rates; and incarceration rates.
In math, students graphed the relationship between income and social opportunity in various south L.A. neighborhoods. In social studies, they read conservative and liberal proposals for school reform and practiced citing data in their own written arguments about how to improve education. In science, students designed experiments that could test policy hypotheses about how to improve education. And in English class, they read Our America, a work of narrative non-fiction about life in the Ida B. Wells housing projects on the South Side of Chicago.
Some Crenshaw students were placed in paid community-service internships. Others worked with local colleges to conduct research in their neighborhoods.
With 30 different administrators in seven years, Crenshaw relied on teachers to lead the reform effort. Test scores began to grow, especially for African-American and disabled students, Goldstein writes. But the district has rejected teacher-led reforms at Crenshaw.
Superintendent John Deasy announced in November that Crenshaw would be reconstituted with three new magnet programs on the arts, entrepreneurship, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). There will be more Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings and no Social Justice and Law Academy.
Teacher had to reapply for their jobs. Cathy Garcia, the teachers’ union chair, charges the district targeted reform leaders, Social Justice teachers and experienced black teachers who live in the neighborhood. She lost her job too.
Cities are breaking up large comprehensive high schools across the country, Goldstein writes. In New York City, the small specialty schools are superior to the big high schools, according to research from the New School. But who gets to go?
. . . students whose schools close may not end up enrolled in those better schools; instead, a significant number of them will be enrolled by default in the nearest large high school that is still open, which itself has extremely low test scores. That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a “domino effect,” in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.
. . . only 6 percent of students whose schools are shut down end up enrolled in a school within the top achievement quartile, and 40 percent of students from closed schools ended up at schools on academic probation.
Smaller, themed schools seem to be better for kids, Goldstein writes. But the transition may leave behind the students who need help the most.
At Crenshaw, a “politically and intellectually challenging” themed school-within-a-school reform was dumped and its leaders dispersed. That’s “discouraging,” Goldstein writes. It certainly doesn’t encourage the remaining teachers to become leaders.