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Los Angeles Times
Thursday, January 27, 2000

As easy as 1, 2, 3

Scores show underprivileged local kids learning math the old fashioned way
By RENE AMY


     School administrators in Indianapolis got a shock the other day. The local paper reported that students at an Indianapolis public school -- one of the poorest, and until recently thought one of the worst schools in the state -- had scored among the top 25 statewide on a standardized test. It even bested another local school with a waiting list in the hundreds, low student turnover, and low poverty rates.
     It's the kind of story that isn't supposed to happen according to most educrats, including many right here in Pasadena. But it is happening. It's happening all over the country. It's even beginning to happen in Pasadena.
     A generation of educrats -- including some still in charge of Pasadena's schools -- have told the public that poor, minority children can't learn as well as their more affluent Caucasian counterparts. But the truth is leaking out: just as Jaimie Escalante demonstrated, any student can learn -- and learn well -- given the right recipe for success in school.
     One doesn't have to look too far -- we've got a lot of the ingredients scattered around Pasadena, even though Pasadena describes itself as a "poor, non-white urban school district."
     Parents of school-aged children know that Don Benito Elementary is considered to be our best public school. It's one of the 75 best schools in Los Angeles County. Why is it so successful, and why would parents line up, days in advance -- even in the rain -- for a chance to get their child into the school?
     One key reason is the math program. It's straight-up, old-style Excel math, building day after day on what the children learn the day before, with continuous review. No other school in the district uses it, and no other school has test scores as high in math across the board. Heck, the lowest average math score at Don Benito is for the third grade -- the 79th percentile, while the second grade averages in the 90th! Not bad for students in a "poor, non-white urban school district."
     An even more dramatic example of success is the sixth-grade math scores at Jackson Elementary. With 87% of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, and 96% classified as "minority," Jackson is one of the poorest schools in the district -- at least in terms of educrats' expectations.
     Yet last year, sixth-graders at Jackson averaged in the 78th national percentile on the SAT-9 test. Even more spectacular, Jackson sixth-graders classified as English Language Learners (ELL) averaged in the 73rd percentile -- and none of them scored below the 25th percentile -- a feat unequaled by even Don Benito's students.
     Compare that to the scores at nearby Altadena Elementary. Altadena has "better" demographics, but over half of the fifth-grade ELLs scored below the 25th percentile, and as a group they averaged at the 20th percentile -- more than 50 percentile points below Jackson's sixth-grade ELLs!
     Jackson's amazing achievements are worthy of note, surely, if not a ticker-tape parade. Educratic logic would tell us that scores like these are reserved for schools in more affluent Arcadia or South Pasadena. But Jackson students bested students at many schools in these communities. Not too surprisingly, the level of interest from Pasadena's leading educrats has been completely underwhelming.
     Something's happening at Jackson Elementary, as it is in similar schools across the country. Something hazardous to educratic excuses, but good for children. Children are being taught real math, they're learning their multiplication tables, they're quizzed and tested, and they're encouraged to succeed -- even told they can and will if they work hard.
     In response, the students are learning and performing well. While educrats desperately argue that test scores don't matter, the beaming faces of proud children and their parents tell a different tale. Success does matter.
     Although a consultant was recently hired by the district, at a rate of $100 per hour, to teach teachers at Jackson how to teach math better , the fact that teachers at Jackson have already found key ingredients to educational success can't be hidden.
     It's time to end the excuses and start teaching all our children well.

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