Re: Schools: Poverty is No Excuse LA Times Editorial, August 28
The most amazing part of the success at Bennett-Kew Elementary in Inglewood is that it is not even the highest school. Kelso Elementary had better scores with worse socioeconomic numbers; it's the only API 10 school in the state with at least 70% of its students qualifying for federal meal assistance. It's percentage is almost 90%, with a third of its students limited English and a third if its teachers under emergency teaching credentials. The legacy of Nancy Ichinaga at BK and Marge Thompson at Kelso is that they not only profoundly changed their own schools, they changed their district. Inglewood Unified hit the 72nd percentile across the district in grade 2 mathematics and 66th in grade 3 this year. The entire district. This is not just unusual, it is profound. Teach kids to read and "to math" in K-3, keep with it through the elementary and middle school grades, and their futures are all but guaranteed. This is the real end of Separate-But-Equal, not some phony social promotion gimmick.
Wayne Bishop Professor of Mathematics California State University, LA
Americans have not cared so much about education since 1957, when Russia beat the United States into space with Sputnik. School reform tops every major public opinion poll, and the increased scrutiny is paying off with somewhat encouraging trends in math and reading skills among 9-year-old students. But older students' scores stalled on the National Assessment of Education Progress tests during the past decade in two key subjects, reading and science, while the achievement gap between black and white students widened.
Of particular import to California is the fact that the gap between Latino and white students has narrowed since the tests were first given 30 years ago. But there has been slippage in that long-term trend in the last decade.
Black and Latino students consistently post lower group scores than white students. The difference remains pronounced even for minority students with college-educated parents, prompting educators to ask whether minority children are being taught by the best teachers.
Lifting scores requires, among other things, excellent principals and teachers, who are often in short supply at high-poverty schools with predominantly Latino or black enrollments. Even so, these demographics need not automatically spell failure.
"No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools," published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, showcases campuses that educate low-income children well. Similarly, the nonprofit Education Trust cites great improvement at numerous schools in "Dispelling the Myth: High-Poverty Schools Exceeding Expectations." These results provide guides for low-performing campuses with similar populations.
Bennett-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood, featured in the Heritage Foundation publication, is often touted nationally as an example of what works with poor, minority students. Its students excel in reading, and their math scores in some cases surpass those of affluent schools in Beverly Hills, Malibu and Irvine.
The school's longtime principal, Nancy Ichinaga, leads a stable corps of well-trained teachers who concentrate on basic reading skills, emphasize math fundamentals, assess students frequently and intervene early when problems develop.
In California, where one in four students is not fluent in English and nearly half of all students are poor, the lesson of Bennett-Kew and schools like it is important to remember: Circumstances of birth, and even poverty, do not negate a child's ability to learn.