Growing up in Los Angeles, we had no choice but to attend the elementary, middle and high schools that we were assigned to by officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District. We were literally stuck, and our parents had no option but to comply. The concept of self-empowerment was literally nonexistent when I was young.
It was a top-down system. Parents and students had to follow the rules and not be too inquisitive. If you asked too many questions, then one was perceived as a troublemaker. Making matters worse, many public school campuses were hotbeds for gangs, drugs and fighting. A culture of fear was pervasive at every level.
You could try transferring out of these violent schools, but to no avail. When I was young in the 1980s and ’90s, charter schools and homeschooling were nowhere near as prevalent as they are today. As a result, thousands upon thousands of students literally chose to drop out instead of risk their lives by attending school.
Society’s response to these realities was no response; out of sight, out of mind. As a result, many of the African-American and Latino students who still attended class became little more than average daily attendance (ADA) funding, the primary financial source for public schools, learning little for their contributions to their own educations.
Vivian Fox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, New Jersey, was quoted by New Yorker Magazine, saying, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”
You just have to replace the Raheem’s name and the same will be true for students in Los Angeles, Pasadena and most other urban school districts throughout the United States.
What do public school districts do with questionable employees? Sometimes they transfer teachers and administrators within the district, since many have tenure and seniority. However, even if they have had controversial pasts, many still actually get promoted.
Sadly, social promotion — both at the hiring and learning levels — continues to be a reality for administrators, teachers and students in many public schools. Meanwhile, gifted, smart students are separated from the average or low-performing students, creating separate learning systems.
How do we repair the damage done by years of bad decision-making and negligence?
For starters, continuation-eligible students need to be given a second or third chance to make it in a traditional high school setting that offers Regional Occupational Programs (ROPs).
The truth is many students are not learning the lessons being taught. Many are physically present but mentally absent. Locally, most schools are not chronically violent places. Yet, many kids are being taught to memorize facts and figures, but few do mainly because these numbers and words don’t add up for them. The problem is that they are not being taught anything that could be useful for them in obtaining future jobs and careers. Many students tune out, then they drop out.
Traditional methods of public education need to be revamped. We must infuse traditional public school curriculums with a mixture of electives that can teach students useful things, such as coding, graphics, web design, and other high-tech and computer-related skills. If these electives were included in most schools, it is highly likely students would be much more interested in attending school more often, thus helping to unclog the school to prison pipeline.
Bureaucracies are used to doing things the same way. It is safe and provides job security. However, parents and students must demand better services. By the same token, students need to be willing to step up and put some effort into learning, starting with respecting substitute and full-time teachers.
Through the teacher preparation programs, student teachers must learn to feel empowered and not intimidated. We have to teach our teachers to be perceived and treated as community leaders.
To that end, the teacher preparation programs should be one year of university classroom instruction, with a one-year paid internship.
In public education, a culture of respect — not fear — must permeate all levels.
Administrators, students and parents need to respect teachers, and vice versa. Otherwise, we will continue to have a teacher shortage and a continual cycle of layoffs, uninterested students and truant children.
Randy Jurado Ertll is the author of “The Lives and Times of El Cipitio.” You can visit his web site at randyjuradoertll.com
Randy Jurado Ertll
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