Dorsey H.S. Among Schools Not Passing the Grade
Within the Los Angeles Unified School District, all of the "predominately African American populated schools have an average API score of 544," said Eric Lee, president of the L.A. Southern Christian Leadership Conference Eric Lee while commenting on the recent school report cards the district sent out to parents.
The maximum score is 1,000 and the goal for California schools is about 800.
"We're so far below our target and operating at about half of what the maximum API score is," he said, adding that the community should be "outraged."
The report cards were sent to parents district wide, informing them on how their children's schools were performing in academic progress, graduation rates, attendance, campus safety and test scores. High schools like Dorsey and Crenshaw had some of the lowest scores, with a graduation rate of about 36 percent.
"You're talking about 64 percent who are not graduating. That's a crime," Lee said.
For his part, Dorsey High School Principal George Bartleson said that he is definitely not "satisfied" with his students' performance but is still encouraged by the progress they have made in the last 4 years.
"This [report card] data comes from our California Standards Test scores," Bartleson explained.
"In 2002 and 2003 we could not get enough students to even take the test. We couldn't even get a score. When I arrived in 2004 I inherited a group of non-test takers. Students opted not to take the test.
"Parents were sending letters saying they didn't want their children taking the test."
About 95 percent of his students have been taking the test each year since 2004, he said.
"We were in the 400's as far as the API scores when I arrived. Our API last year went up 30 points and we're in the 500's now. Our special education went up 31 points so I know those numbers do not accurately show what we can do at Dorsey High School.
"Last year we sent 14 students off to UCLA, three got into UC Berkley, one into Yale…"
Lee, along with other community activists and organizations including the CORE Education Defense Fund, are heading up what they call the Black Education Task Force. Their goal is to hold the district leaders more accountable to schools with a mostly African American, at or below poverty level population, as far as funding, quality teachers and the specific educational needs of black children. Some of LAUSD's biggest problems when it comes to its poorest students, said Lee, is a deficit of properly qualified teachers and unequal distribution of district funding.
Most of the well qualified teachers, he said, are allowed to go to schools in higher income neighborhoods, leaving "inner city school with less experienced teachers, an influx of substitutes and an employee turnover rate of about 60 percent."
"Schools are funded based on average daily attendance from the general fund and then based on specific needs like poverty, disability, etc. based on the categorical funding," he said.
"The problem is that when that money comes in it comes into a district pot. It's distributed by the district, not based on student need but based on the expenses of the schools. So the school with higher paid teachers, more equipment and educational resources get most of the money."
Last year, former Dorsey High School Teacher Rabbi Nachum Schifferen talked to the Sentinel about his own experience and shared insight on how a school district can fail its students.
"I never saw a phenomenon where I had so many kids with no pencils, books or homework… nothing," Schifferen said.
"How could it be that a twelfth grader is in my class and doesn't know what an adjective is or where the verb is in a sentence?"
For his part Schifferen, who taught Spanish at Dorsey, expected nothing less than adequate performance in his classroom. That meant coming to class prepared, doing the assigned homework and passing the quizzes and tests. He left his door open during lunchtime and after school he said, for students who needed help understanding the material but no one would come.
The majority of his students failed his class because they would not comply with those standards and he would not socially promote them.
"The public education system has seriously failed black children," Lee said.
"We're losing them by second and third grade and continuing to pass them on even when realizing their grade levels behind. By the time they get to 6th grade, they're already 4 or 5 grade levels behind."