I had a different post in mind for today, it was part two of Charter School 101, but instead I wanted to post one of the comments made on Mike McMahon’s website. The comments section has since been moved to another page because of the high volume of comments from community members regarding this issue. There is one letter that particularly stood out (and was emailed not once, but twice to me).
I am trying to get permission from the letter writer to credit it to him, but for now, it will be “anonymous” until I can get an okay. The letter was written by Encinal teacher, Brian Rodriguez, who was quoted in a 2005 article in the Washington Post about How to Build a Better High School, which was part of a larger Challenge Index which measures the best high schools in the US based on the number of advanced classes (AP and International Baccalaureate) offered and taken by students:
…some large studies, such as an analysis by the National Center for Educational Accountability of Texas state-college data, suggest that even students who do poorly on AP tests have significantly higher college-graduation rates than those who do not take AP tests at all. In public schools where average parental income is low and minority students are numerous, enthusiasm for AP and IB has never been greater. “Only 17 percent of our parents have attended college,” says Brian Rodriguez, the AP coordinator at Encinal High School in Alameda, Calif., “but AP has had a tremendous impact here, as we regularly send kids to Stanford, Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Berkeley and UCLA who never would have had a chance to go there even six years ago.”…
But before that, I’m sure the Charter School followers have all seen by now either the email from Paul Bentz of ACLC or at the very least the article from the Alameda Journal about ACLC/NCLC seeking to delay the vote on the charter school application. Perhaps the School Board can address that item first before all the community members schlep out to the meeting, sit through hours and hours of comments only to be told that, whoops, they decided to allow for the postponement. Regardless of how the Board votes though, it looks like ACLC/NCLC already has plan B well into effect:
Officials with Alameda Learning Center Schools say they likely will appeal to the county and then the state department of education if their application for a new charter school in Alameda is turned down by the Alameda Unified School District.
“We wrote the charter so it could be presented at the district,” said Maafi Gueye, the lead facilitator with the Nea Learning Center. “If it’s rejected by the district, we would go to the county and put it in front of (Alameda County School District Superintendent) Shiela Jordan.”…
If the Charter application is approved by any entity but the Alameda Unified School District Board, look to the already strained relationship between ACLC/NCLC and AUSD to become even more strained. In the article Paul B. points to the waiting list of 170 families strong (how was the waiting list crafted by the way?) — 120 for the K-5 program — as proof that while the AUSD staff did not find their description of the K-5 program strong enough, surely 120 families can’t be mistaken! Except for the fact that there are how many other thousands of families that have not bought into the hype who will be directly impacted by any further reductions to the AUSD budget.
For a comprehensive charter application for a K-5 program, one need not look any farther than the most recent one submitted from Renaissance Leadership Academy. While I have not gone over it in detail, at first blush it has done what ACLC/NCLC failed to do, which is describe how their program for younger students would be run. Not to say that the Renaissance application didn’t have its share of problem, my first red flag was under the site visit section, where Renaissance has requested that if a site visit is to be performed by district staff, they must give at least three days notice first. Sort of defeats the purpose of a site visit, where ostensibly one would want to get a feel for a “normal” day at the school and not one where the kids have all combed their hair in preparation for an official visit, but I digress.
Anyway, back to the real meat of this post, a teacher at Encinal has submitted this letter stating his opinions on the ACLC/NCLC application. No one can accuse this teacher of being in fear that his job is on the line in the case that ACLC/NCLC’s application is granted because he, as one of the Advanced Placement teachers at Encinal, provide a much needed service to ACLC students right now, as accelerated programs in their much touted “college preparatory” environment is simply not provided.
I wish to weigh in on the ACLC charter issue. I have been a classroom teacher at Encinal since the beginning of what was then referred to as the ‘secret school” or Arthur Anderson Community Learning Center, now known as the Alameda Community Learning Center and have seen it grow and develop. I have been recognized on the state and national level by various educational institutions, universities and national magazines as an innovative educator and the College Board certified my Advanced Placement classes. I have collaborated with many of the ACLC facilitators on various projects, and respect Paul Benz, who serves as chief architect of the current application to expand their school, who I consider to be a dedicated educator. I have gained additional insight into ACLC, because I teach Advanced Placement classes at Encinal, and have had the privilege over the last five years of having many ACLC students in my classes, and can attest to the ability and drive of those students, as well as the support of their well to do parents. However, I do not believe the ACLC model has much to do with their achievements and I am against expanding this model.
Originally, Arthur Anderson Community Learning Center was a well-funded and innovative program, led by experienced and exciting teachers. The equipment was first rate, the computers were modern, the class sizes were small, and the learning seemed to be exciting. But that was then. Today, ACLC is a dirty, chaotic and crowded environment where many of the students flaunt the rules of the AUSD by riding skateboards through the hallways, walk without passes out of the Center whenever they like, and make a tremendous amount of noise disturbing the ongoing classes at Encinal. As a parent, I often wonder if parents actually see what is going on over there as students sprawl on couches, tune out the world on headphones, and play hide and seek in the parking lot. With few exceptions, the higher-level learning, as well as the physical and social needs of students are “outsourced” by ACLC.
And what educational advantages are there in this “innovative” program? The ACLC advanced students take AP classes at Encinal in any of our twelve AP classes, or go the Alameda Junior College. This is exactly the same as students at AHS or at EHS. For physical education they hike to the old Navy Base. For music they take band, drama, choir or guitar at Encinal. To play sports they play on Encinal’s sports teams. For social needs, they attend our assemblies and dances. The classes taken at the Center are basic mixed grade levels – which leads to mixed results. The “Honors” classes given at the Center are not recognized by the UC system and they teach no AP classes, as they lack certification by the College Board. However, the clear success of the ACLC program is that have been able to maintain high standardized test scores by selective admissions, and the clear failure to serve Alameda’s large population of English Language Learners, Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, or developmentally disabled, who go to school in the rest of the schools in Alameda. Their student population DOES NOT represent the West End of Alameda, or AHS. The “lottery” system currently employed by ACLC has not worked to diversify ACLC (despite claims of de facto neutrality) as the majority of the students at ACLC are white and or privileged. Recognizing this obvious weakness, the ACLC staff has made recent and half-hearted efforts in the last week of the 2007 school year to solicit students of color from Encinal High School, passing out fliers and hosting free lunches without apparent effect. In summary, the formula used by ACLC is to teach the core classes at the Center, outsource the high level classes, and maintain a privileged student base. Unfortunately, that has been seen by the State of California as the key to becoming a “Distinguished School.”
I am NOT against the idea of student participation, student run discipline, or student government as modeled at ACLC. These ideas go back to enlightened thinkers like Thoreau. And I am very impressed with the manner in which the students understand their school and take ownership of their education. The model they ‘espouse” will actually work with highly prepared students from college educated families. Of course, so will ALL programs at ANY school, public, private, charter or foreign with that student population and parental support. As an example, there are no charter schools in Piedmont – none in Orinda, and they are nowhere to be found in Rancho Santa Fe. They are not necessary. Therefore, that is not reason enough to expand this flawed model of public education.
Let’s tell it like it is. ACLC is a “niche” school – serving a small select group of Alameda parents who are either too horrified at mixing their kids with the rest of the public school population, too thrifty to pay private school prices or hope that this school can offer something “different.” Mr. Benz has taken advantage of the State of California’s and AUSD’s emphasis on high test scores to attempt to expand his school. He knows the dirty little secret of test scores – that the highest scores will come from the children of parents who went to college themselves. A recent study provided that family-based factors such as the quality of day care, the home vocabulary and the amount of time spent reading and watching television in the home account for two-thirds of the success of students. Building on this formula, ACLC limits the admission of lower income minority groups, as well as English language learners and developmentally disabled and always has high tests scores. Why do you think Piedmont scores higher than Alameda High School or Encinal in standardized testing? Did you really think it was better teachers?
In conclusion, I am not against ACLC, its facilitators or its students. In theory their program does offer important alternatives to a privileged few. It is important to maintain this niche program, although I am concerned that by doing so AUSD encourages and validates a two-tier educational system which allows more money per pupil to be spent than on the rest of the students. However, what I am against is perpetrating the lie that ACLC has built a better educational mousetrap that should be expanded on its merits to include more children from college educated families and fewer students of color or those from the less privileged classes, thereby hurting the majority at the expense of the already privileged minority.