Big Payoff

Finally, some good news about L.A. Mummified's student test scores.

If Los Angeles had even a mere interest in the “rival cities” feud that San Franciscans like to perpetuate, this month would be remembered for L.A.’s shining victory as our schools pummeled San Francisco’s on test-score improvements that will mean big cash rewards from the state.Classroom teaching reforms have swept through much of California, including the long-resistant Los Angeles Unified School District. The two chief pillars of these reforms are a return to the systematic teaching of phonics, plus the aggressive teaching of English immersion to immigrants as laid out in Proposition 227, which essentially banned “bilingual” education.

Governor Gray Davis and LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer are elated over the fact that 68 percent of the city’s schools exceeded expectations and will be rewarded early next year with oodles of cash.

These two powerful men believed in the reforms, and they were thrilled when the reforms began paying off for the children.

The results were released October 4 in a state report on the new Academic Performance Index, which showed that minority children began to close the gap with white children by making the biggest gains of all. Nearly 7,000 schools participated in the statewide test known as the Stanford 9, and they will divide up $677 million in incentives money. Latino children showed the greatest gains, up 39 points on the statewide Academic Performance Index, while black children jumped 35 points, whites 28 points, and Asians 24 points.

“We’re just delighted, but we are going to push hard to see even more gains among our children,” Romer said.

But State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and San Francisco’s school bureaucrats were not delighted, because Eastin and San Francisco officials have fought these classroom teaching reforms every step of the way.

Eastin is behind the cynical sellout by the state Department of Education to the powerful education trade groups whose members’ livelihoods depend in large part on maintaining the disastrous twin fads of whole language and “bilingual” education.

Even as the big successes on the Stanford 9 test caused celebration in many districts this month, Eastin was moving to shut down reforms at the fabulously successful Oceanside School District, where a student body that is 40-percent Latino is thriving under English immersion and phonics reforms.

Eastin and her despicable staff claim that Oceanside is improperly failing to provide Spanish-only classes to a handful of parents who want that instead. So Eastin launched a repressive district-wide “compliance review” by her department and has ordered changes within 60 days, which some Sacramento education insiders tell me will almost certainly force many of Oceanside’s hapless children back under the failed whole language/bilingual education fold.

The meddling and not very intelligent Eastin was emboldened by the Multicultural Education and Training Advocacy Inc., an antireform group that is suing the Oceanside School District for failing to offer Spanish-only classes.

Tiny Oceanside is being made an example for good reason. Its superintendent, the courageous Ken Noonan, is considered by “bilingual” education fanatics to be the chief turncoat and most infamous deserter in the long war to make immigrant kids learn their coursework in Spanish for the first three to five years of school.

More than a decade ago, Noonan cofounded the powerful trade group, California Association for Bilingual Education, to promote Spanish-only classrooms in California. CABE’s teachers and bureaucrats are fanatically committed to this failed theory, which says that Latino children must be taught to read and write exclusively in the language of their parents for three to five years, so they can keep up in math, history, and other subjects.

Noonan became a lightning rod for CABE’s rage when he publicly acknowledged last year that the Spanish-only theory, still being promoted relentlessly by educational snake-oil salesman Steve Krashen, a professor at USC, is a crock.

Says Noonan, who is bilingual and Mexican-American, “I guess I really stepped on the wrong people.”

For years, the Spanish-only system was hidden from the public by the California media, which stupidly and unquestioningly misidentified it as “bilingual” education. But Noonan saw the immigrant children in his schools widely failing math, history, and other subjects taught to them solely in Spanish, even as English reading and writing were also systematically being withheld. So the kids were losing both ways.

The old system was a godforsaken nightmare that went on far too long, and somebody should knight Ken Noonan. Instead, he is being sued by META and hammered on by Eastin. META wants to put an end to the English-immersion wave sweeping California since the passage of Proposition 227.

How does all this relate to Los Angeles and its big test-score victory this month over San Francisco? Well, we aren’t out of the woods yet.

San Francisco, under clueless former Superintendent Bill Rojas, fought the statewide phonics and English-immersion reforms, and went to court to demand that its immigrant children be excluded from all-state testing, including Stanford 9.

This month, the outrageous position taken in San Francisco showed itself in the schools’ terrible test scores. Unlike Los Angeles, whose every school proudly took the test, few San Francisco schools took it. In L.A., 68 percent of schools exceeded state expectations. In San Francisco, only 13 percent achieved that level. Those few will receive cash rewards to further improve their programs. But the rest of San Francisco’s schools lost millions of dollars, and, unlike L.A., their kids are still not being taught to read and write in English.

But Eastin and the fad fanatics in San Francisco could still suck Los Angeles down. Sadly, out of the 65,000 second graders in L.A. Unified, 25,000 are still functionally illiterate, and of 50,000 eighth graders, 20,000 are still functionally illiterate. If San Francisco succeeds in its lawsuit to prohibit testing of immigrant children, the powerful antireform crowd that is still gainfully employed inside LAUSD will try the same tactic. The L.A. antireformers, just waiting for the right moment, will surge forth with plans to throw out testing, phonics, and English immersion.

Marion Joseph, the most outspoken reformer on the state Board of Education appointed by Davis, warmly lauds Los Angeles for its achievements.

“L.A. has done a fabulous job this year, over the summer training 7,000 teachers in how to actually teach reading,” says Joseph. “It’s just so incredible to see them pushing for a return to real, direct teaching of children. An awful lot of teachers just were not teaching, they were facilitating or doing some other stuff that could not be called teaching.”

But, Joseph and others warn, L.A. Mummified still has a huge division of employees known as English Language Development, and that division is full of people still seething over the success of English immersion techniques in the schools. That crowd plans to fight phonics and English immersion for immigrant kids every step of the way.

It’s no coincidence that one of the biggest pushers of Spanish-only bilingual education in L.A., Sonia Hernandez, was just named the head of LAAMP/LEARN — which is the anemic supposed “reform” effort based upon giving governance back to the individual school sites. The sad appointment of Hernandez to head up LAAMP/LEARN is another indication of how powerful the antireformists still are in Los Angeles.

“It’s a never-ending struggle,” says school board member David Tokofsky, who opposed Proposition 227 but now supports English immersion. “A lot of people just don’t care that the kids are finally learning. For them, that’s not what this is about.”

In due time, I trust that the antireformists will be punished by a higher authority for their horrific selfishness. But I worry about the thousands of nonpoliticized, nonfanatical teachers who may not know who or what to believe. Romer, as the new chief of the L.A. schools, owes this huge group of well-meaning teachers a window onto the truth.

I suggest that Romer identify the most improved classrooms in the district, based on the Stanford 9 test, go into those classes with a RomerCam, and videotape the teaching techniques of the city’s most-improved teachers. Then, I suggest that Romer pay every teacher in the city a modest bonus to watch at least 24 hours — about three days — of the sound teaching techniques that are finally flowering in the schools.

And don’t forget to send a tape to the bumbling adults up north. State Superintendent Eastin should be bound to a school desk and forced to watch hundreds of hours of the teaching of phonics and English immersion by California’s newly liberated most-improved teachers.

It probably won’t teach the bubble-brained Eastin a damn thing. But it will certainly make me feel a lot better.

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