Thursday, February 04, 2010

LHS in Finals Week; Public School Choice Voting in progress

With all the activities on L.A. City Budget happening, I haven't been able to check on the old alma mater. Now I see that we are at that moment of truth on varied levels. The Finals Week is in progress with a Minimum Day schedule operating yesterday, today and tomorrow, rotating with two periods per day holding their final exams. The new semester will start on Monday.

Public School Choice voting is in progress, too, with voting days of last Tuesday and next Saturday. This is one of those responses to the LAUSD's schools' overall poor performance in mosts tests that you can find, all the way down to the CAHSEE, (California High School Exit Exam) that seems to be the first indication that there's a problem. It's given every year, each semester, beginning in 10th grade according to my memory, but that's not the crucial part. The test only has to be passed once and you are done with it. That's not been happening enough, even though the grade-level design of the test was supposed to cover only up to the 8th or 9th grade level of learning.

The exit exam should be simple and direct to get over with and taking the test each semester with a second testing a semester woven into the schedule for make-up for absentees on the regular date. But I am not sure about more than one try per semester. In any event, the passing numbers are not good, but they are getting better I'm told.

Now, that Public School Choice is in the LHS official website and that's appearing in both English and Spanish for parents to choose among the competing offerings since LHS has been in PI (Performance Improvement) status for 5 consecutive years. They have lots of company but after 3 years a change can be made by the State taking over a school. Too many schools in this category to handle all by the state, but it looks like your charter schools and other operators have the door opened by District to present their proposals that will lead to opening up shop as a school operation.

The LHS entry is there too but I am not too encouraged by it. I see one big part that should have been done years ago, and that's adopting school uniforms. Most charter schools follow that practice and while a lot of people want to have "independent thinking" extend to dress, we have to remember that high school should include preparing students for the future. That future usually includes working and more often, it's working for somebody else. In line with that is the need for some conformity with standards of dress unless you happen to be self-employed. Even there you want to attract clients and customers, so you will dress accordingly.

The other item that I was not whole heartedly in agreement with is the block scheduling. Roughly, it's a 2-hour or extended class session as opposed to the 50-something minute class. I don't like it for the simple reason that attention begins to wane in long sessions for young people. That's my unscientific conclusion from observing students in my own and other classrooms.

Next, the student who misses a class will be twice as far behind for missing one of those sessions and that's not good. In a related situation, I think it's better for shorter more frequent class sessions to give information and allow a time before the next class to allow some digestion of the material and maybe some homework on it.

Regular sessions as a more practical use of time compared to Block sessions-

I used to talk a lot with teachers, being a newcomer myself, and we considered teaching to be something of a performance to get students engaged, to give them information and show them how to use it. Regardless of our own situation, we had to perform and when each class was over, you had to have felt something was accomplished by your efforts. Being new, it was often a bit stressful and fatiguing. Getting some experience under your belt probably makes this part easier as the years mount up for teachers on the job. Working two hour classes into the program is where it can make the productivity of each class more crucial since you have two session now pushed into one.

So, a block session operation is so long and if it's fully engaging students it's great, but if it's a bad day for students or teacher, too, then twice as much mediocrity happens. A two-hour show, essentially, has to be prepared and has to be a hit each time for the students to really get something out of it. Students in college might like less trips to a classroom and can tolerate it, but I doubt there's the same utility or benefit to younger students who already show resistance to being in school- not all, but a lot, and these will be the ones that mght not do well here when we want to be as inclusive as possible. There's enough drop out already without pushing out more.

Blocked time justified in some cases:
I should add another comment, that when we had classes like I remember in the case of shops, the longer time that back-to-back periods for those shop classes made sense. You had to set up things and prepare for doing some work, and then you also had to get some instruction for advancing to more steps. The sports programs were like that, too. Not much use for an hour PE class for team sports, but the last period continued to after school for practice time to be worthwhile.

Academic classes usually don't involve too much set up time and equipment for a need to add time. There's a comment about discipline improved by not having students moving from class to class as one passing period is eliminated for each block that is in the schedule. That sort of admits that the school capitulates on the discipline ability and uses elimination of that action to be the solution. On the other hand, being short handed in staffing and having a lot of energetic students trying to move to another class in a few minutes is a real job and reducing the need might help operations, but I don't think it's a "plus" for the school to demonstrate success.

I will have to get back to this area later- the charter schools really pose a threat to conventional school operations. LHS is trying to be innovative to challenge any bidder for operating all or part of Lincoln High's facility. From being in LAUSD for so long, I don't know how well different thinking will be realized and whether that different thinking is worth the value that will be claimed.

Another negative to me is that idea of the SLC, the Small Learning Community. The idea included having smaller groups of students, like a mini-school, where the teachers would be closer to their students and needs, contrasted to the conventional big-school setting. I don't think largeness itself is a negative if education is demonstrated to happen. Just using Alhambra, a district that I know a little about, I see there's Alhambra High apparently functioning adequately with a huge population that makes knowing all students a tough job. But it's not in trouble as far as I know.

One reality that is never actually factored in to SLCs is that there is a lot of faculty turnover. LHS had over 100 teachers and in only a few years, you have a major change in the faculty roster. So a big school or a small school will have turnover - and if it's a small school, it will be felt even more when it happens.

There's just a lot of the changes that are proposed that either don't mean that much as a certainty to produce an improvement, or, they come so late in the game that you wonder why it took so long to happen. And THAT last part is what gripes people about how LAUSD handles the schools. It's what I see happens to cause pollution of minds so people only act "the LAUSD" way

There was a description of being able to address student problems individually but SST was supposed to be a part of each school to handle that. SST was the Student Success Team that would address anything that was impacting negatively on a student and could be triggered by a teacher referral. At least that was what the training taught us, but I really never saw that provision explicitly established in the few years I was at Lincoln. One of many of the expectations that were created in training but not found to be quite what was happening in practice.

Finally, whatever happens INSIDE the schools usually is unknown to the outsiders, even to many parents. I remember that when I spoke with alumni while I was teaching, that then fact of a "home rome" or "roll call" was long gone. A lot of people say,"big deal," but you still had that thread of continuity of students and teacher for at least ONE session AND there was a break from the work aspect of school. We were informed by the daily bulletin, spoke about current issues in the news or school or just did a few minutes of socializing with the same students in this homeroom that would carry on to graduation.

That's a capsule description and there's more to it, but it doesn't happen anymore. Adding a few minutes for daily roll taking and reading sessions for whatever happens to be 2nd period or whatever period that activity defaluts to is not the same as a homeroom. As I have said, outsiders usually assume it was like when they were in high school, that is, UNTIL they have students in school or make a campus visit to see all is not like it was before. It's been a shocking revelation to some-usually in the mode of dress of the girls of today.

An example of another time that caused some impact: I remember when a state team visited the school to evaluate it around 2004 and the general usage of profanity by students, easily heard while just walking among them in passing periods, was a big shock- so much so that a behavior plan was among their proposals presented to the administration. It was supposed to include parents, too. I just got used to the profanity outside and dealt with it as needed inside the classroom. And just in case you wondered, nothing ever happened to address that part of the recommendations but that was an expectation based on how a lot happened or didn't happen at Lincoln. Parents and outsiders just don't really know a lot about those things, and there's a lot of defensive attitudes in place on the school side of things that you might notice, maybe more now than before.

In any event, there's a lot more problems in the LAUSD but I just noticed this program-changing item on the school's calendar. I need to get up to date on charters' operations- one big thing that is different- and some will not be happy with this comment- the charters don't have unions as another influence like LAUSD has.

Some organizing is happening but it's not yet widespread, and that entanglement in LAUSD is a source of a lot of things coming to a standstill. The role of unions appears to have changed over the decades and I will leave that topic for another discussion, too, for now.