Why did Obama choose Miguel Contreras Learning Complex?


President Barack Obama's Town Hall meeting with Los Angeles residents came off smoothly today, based on the live feeds I saw, with the president covering familiar ground and showing a lot of verve.

One issue that seemed to be an undercurrent leading up to the Town Hall was why he chose Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, a school that opened in 2006 to tremendous promise  but has not fulfilled it.

The President's aides repeatedly explained that Obama chose the site because it offered good security and a handy location downtown. It's also possible that Obama was sending a message just days after he called for teacher merit pay as a way to reform the schools.

Miguel Contreras Learning Complex is a beautiful facility with the best equipment, books and materials, but it is also a school in trouble.

Los Angeles Unified School District poured a fortune into the school,

and gave the school's bureaucrats and teachers greater autonomy in

so-called "small learning communities."

The kids love the school: Five teams of high school students citywide

conducted an August, 2007 survey to find out why their peers keep

dropping out. In it, Miguel Contreras Learning Complex got

kudos from its students. The parents also love this school, if you believe the comments on the Trulia real estate service.

The most telling piece of data: only three percent of Miguel Contreras Learning Complex teenagers are at "proficient" level or better in mathematics, a level some critics have suggested could be achieved by these kids if they did not attend school at all. (A separate school at the facility, the Los Angeles School of Global Studies, or LASGS, is doing well, and should not be confused with the three small learning communities in the high school.)

Maybe Obama really chose Miguel Contreras Learning Complex for its location and security. Or, given the vast sums and intense efforts poured into this school for the past two and a half years, a place where the kids are still not being taught really routine math skills, maybe the president selected the school for an unspoken message about where he is heading on education.

One thing's certain: After its flush years, Miguel Contreras Learning Complex is now facing the fiscal hatchet, with possible layoffs that would oust the youngest teachers and probably create overcrowding. Neither of those ideas were part of the plan when this school was launched with great hope in the fall of 2006


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