By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I think we have a tendency to minimize the task, to minimize the need for the kinds of massive cultural shifts that make people very uncomfortable. What we're after here ultimately is a very different kind of school system, one that stems from a real social movement. And like any good social movement, it will need ultimately to transfer the knowledge and power from a bureaucracy to those who are outside it.
DICK ROBERTS:To me, you have to look at what's working, and what's working across the country is concentrating on instruction. In the San Fernando cluster of schools I'm associated with, we're taking instructional â models, ones that have already been developed and that we know work. Ours is not the only program like this, but there are some known models out there that concentrate on instruction.
MIKE ROOS:During the 14 years I was in the state Legislature, I felt that every time I was able to get more money for Los Angeles schools, I had succeeded in helping kids. But then when I got down here, I saw an unbelievable number of schools failing. They lacked textbooks. They lacked competent personnel. People, like Howard Lappin, who I felt were massively talented were treated like automatons, told, "Here are the rules, now follow them."
I think the real question we have to ask when we talk about reform is "Are kids learning or not?" We're still stuck at that basic question.
JEANNIE OAKES:I'm most interested in our perceptions of academic ability and merit in the school system, and how those things, linked with race and social class, trigger practices and policies that institutionalize the low level of confidence we have in the ability of low-income children of color in this society to really achieve well and be more successful. We do that through the allocation of very tangible things, like textbooks and qualified teachers, and through less tangible things like informal and formal assessments of academic achievement.
And so my goal is to try to figure out how to create schools where having low-income kids of color achieve at extraordinarily high levels makes sense to people. Because once it makes sense to us as a concept -- I mean, really makes sense -- then we human beings are extraordinarily creative at creating practices that operationalize our assumptions.
HOWARD LAPPIN:My school, Foshay Learning Center, is an inner-city school. We have 200 elementary school students, 2,700 middle school students and 700 high school students. We're 70 percent Hispanic and 30 percent African-American, and 98 percent of our kids receive free or reduced-price lunches. My job in school reform, my ultimate job in school reform, is to see to it that Foshay Learning Center graduates are able to go on to college. Those who graduate from the middle school are prepared to go to the high school where they can get what they need. That means that if they have to have algebra in the eighth grade, they'll all have algebra in the eighth grade. If they have to learn how to get to grade level in reading, then we get them to grade level in reading.
The high school is immensely successful. These are all kids of color, and all kids who are poor, yet they go on to college. And this last year was the best class we've ever had, where 98 percent qualified for college and 70 percent were accepted into four-year colleges. So these kids can succeed, and they can learn.
I'm hopeful that if we are successful at Foshay, others will see that it can be done. I'm hopeful that if we set models, particularly for inner-city kids, kids of color and kids who are poor, then these models of success can be copied, and others will say, "It's worth the effort. It's worth the hard work. It's worth all the hassles." Because it's much easier to not do this. It's much easier to sit back and do whatever somebody tells us to do from up above.
The other thing people have to understand is that school reform takes tremendous time. To say that we've had two or three years of something and it doesn't work and we have to try something else is nonsense. It takes time, and it takes effort.
ROBERTS:And you also need curriculum. In my cluster, we're using the "Success for All" program, which breaks the classes down into small, ability-level groupings in its first year. And if you look at our Stanford 9 scores, they're up by 30 and 40 percent. Now, that doesn't mean instruction is the only thing. I think everything we've â talked about is important. But you can't hold the kids hostage until everything else falls into place.
LAPPIN:I'm not going to disagree with you, because obviously the program is working. We've seen it work in Houston, and I believe very strongly that it will work in the San Fernando Cluster. But one of the reasons it works is that "Success for All" says that three-quarters of the teachers have to agree to follow the program in order for it to go into a school. And I think that buy-in on the part of the teachers -- buy-in, mind you, to a program we know works -- is a very important piece.