Friday, May 29, 2009


By Caroline Grannan –

May 28, 7:46 PM · My 91-year-old mother-in-law energetically saves up clippings from the L.A. Times to send us in fat envelopes every few weeks. While my kids joke (lovingly) that she sends them every article that mentions music in any way, she’s right on target with my interests. So today a 2½-week-old clipping arrived about Green Dot’s Locke High School in Watts.

Locke, which I covered a couple of weeks ago in following up on a New Yorker article about it, is a rare experiment in the education reform world – a newly charterized school that’s truly supposed to accept all neighborhood students rather than only the kids from motivated families who seek it out and apply. Locke was a badly struggling LAUSD high school that was turned over to the charter operator Green Dot Schools (which, it’s crucial to note, has vastly more money to pour into the school than the bare-bones school district does, thanks to private benefactors).

The Times is running a continuing series on Locke – unsigned articles on its editorial page. It’s probably just as well for whoever’s writing them that the coverage is unsigned -- especially since all of their jobs are teetering on the brink – given that one week’s sunny outlook has to be contradicted by the next week’s dose of reality.

May 10, 2009

A YEAR AT LOCKE: These exams also put teachers to the test
Benchmark exams not only improve student performance, they help make instructors accountable.

An excerpt:

You can discern a lot about the changes at Locke this year in just a casual visit. Since the former Los Angeles Unified school became a Green Dot charter, students sit in class instead of wandering the halls or smoking marijuana on the roof. Open any classroom door and you find an energetic teacher engaged in instruction instead of screening a movie to fill time. Basic improvements -- but transformational for this Watts school.

Only 18 days later, a different view emerges:

May 28, 2009

Where change begins at L.A.'s Locke High School: Two freshman academies show that improvements in student achievement won't be easy or quick.

A visit to its freshman academies, however, shows that major gains don't come easy, or fast.
So far, not a single student at Locke 1 has tested as proficient on the school's benchmark exams in algebra. Locke 2 is in similar straits. Students disappeared during the school year; new students with their own difficulties signed up. These are the same intractable problems Locke suffered from as an L.A. Unified school.

And this time, light dawns: The Times writer gets the point that eludes so many mainstream journalists who swallow the charter school Kool-Aid:

Previous Green Dot charters, opened as alternatives to failing public schools, attracted motivated families that came from far-flung communities to place their children on waiting lists. As a result, enrollment was predictable and stable. At Locke, Green Dot took over an already cramped and rundown campus and committed to accepting students within its enrollment area -- which has meant taking more than it has room for, and enrolling students who are less interested in what Green Dot has to offer. …

Locke can't be run by the standards of most other schools, or even other Green Dot schools. The charter operator normally requires a certain amount of parent involvement. Here, parents are often overwhelmed and sometimes uninterested. Some come in for conferences clearly under the influence of drugs; other parents are in prison.

After a promising start to the school year, dozens of new students enrolled. Some had just been released from juvenile detention, bearing gang tattoos on their necks -- at age 14. Staff found marijuana stuffed into the caps of pens. Graffiti made an appearance.


Don’t get me wrong. I’d love it if a magical solution did turn up. I do not love it when a “reform” is hailed as a magical solution when it isn’t; when factors like creaming for highly motivated students are ignored, downplayed or denied. There’s also the not-so-small factor than Green Dot has tons of private money to pour into these projects, which explains how it can afford enough security guards to keep the campus orderly (with a few glitches like those annoying incidents of pepper-spraying students).

My mother-in-law asked, “How are the Green Dot schools in S.F. doing?”  Well, we don’t have any here (yet). I like to think our Board of Education members are smart enough to realize that now they can watch the Locke experiment to see how a charter operator does when it can’t cream. If it turns out to be a success, the welcome mat will be out.

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