Co-Lead, Los Angeles Academy of Medical and Public Service
Teacher Lead, Computer Science Academy
Teacher Lead, Los Angeles International High School
“A national system of new small schools requires the creation of many new high schools and a ‘choice’ system that permits students to select their schools and thus encourage schools to be different in interesting and meaningful ways. A system of such schools also requires us to think differently about school system governance. Small, focused, and autonomous schools imply systems of diverse schools that educate all students to high levels. As a result, state and local school boards need to become managers of portfolios of schools; instead of operating schools, as they do now, boards need to ensure that all students have access to the variety of quality educational options supplied by the many institutions and organizations…
Improving American high school education, particularly the graduation rates of African-American and Hispanic students (and subsequently, their college completion rates), is the focus of the foundation’s work in education. We salute and support those who are leading this fight—teachers who never give up on students, principals who hold fast to a vision of a great school for poor children, superintendents who build a sense of community, community organizations fighting for families, university deans who roll yup their sleeves in schools, mayors with a vision of great cities, governors who know that education equals jobs. And we salute students—especially those who grow up in America in poverty and those who come to this country for a better life—who, in the face of great odds, persevere to gain an education.”
Thomas Vander Ark
Director, Educational Programs
High Schools on a Human Scale By Thomas Toch
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction ...………………………………………………………………………………………………..……
fractured families, and uncertain futures. Nowhere can these specters be more evident than to the young people who attend Belmont High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). With a graduation rate of only 35% and a large majority of the graduates not prepared to enter colleges or university, the basis for continued failure is solidified for future generations.
The Belmont residential area is comprised of 19 square miles with a total of approximately 353,000 people within its boundaries. The Pico-Union community is the most densely populated urban area in the State of California with a total of 18,552 people occupying every square mile in the area, compared to a state average of 2,093 people per square mile. The population, predominantly Latino, is poor, undereducated and underemployed. The notorious 18th Street Gang, the largest in the country, envelops the entire Belmont community and contributes to the highest crime rates in the city. Belmont High School serves approximately 5,400 students and is often cited by educational scholars and researchers as a prime example of a large, impersonal, “inner-city,” factory-model comprehensive high school that fails to serve its students well. The following are community risk factors that have exacerbated the low levels of academic achievement at the middle and high school levels between July 1, 2004, and ending June 30, 2005:
A total of 43 students at the secondary level was disciplined, suspended or expelled for engaging in alcohol use, drug use, and/or violent behavior. (Source: Safe Schools Environmental Committee, LAUSD)
There were eleven incidents of students carrying weapons onto campus. Five of these were firearms-related. (Source: LAUSD School Police)
Schools in the Pico-Union area reported an alarming 90 incidents and violent crimes on campus. (Source: LAUSD School Police)
There were 34 suicides reported in the Belmont residential area, although it is unclear how many were school-aged youth. (Source: United Way of Greater LA; County Service Planning Area Date book)
Fourteen students were expelled from school. An additional 150 were offered “Opportunity Transfers” after less serious infractions. A total of 1,895 students were suspended from Belmont High School and its feeder schools. (Source: Los Angeles Unified School District Data)
The rate of population turnover (transience) in the Pico-Union area is 38.9%. At the high school level, the rate of transience exceeds 65%. (Source: LAUSD Student Health and Human Services Division)
BELMONT COMPREHENSIVE HIGH SCHOOL
A high school dropout explains how the educational system is structured for not caring: “ ‘I had passing grades when I decided to dropout. Nobody tried to stop me. Nobody cared. None of the [adults] paid any attention to me. The only time I ever saw the principal was when I got sent to him, which I never stayed around for. The individual classes were too big for students to learn; students should have longer exposure to individual teachers. If students could have the same subject teachers throughout their high school careers, this would allow teachers to get to know students better. No high school should have more than 400 students max, and all on one floor. Who needs seven floors in a school?’ ”
Redesigning Schools: What Matters and What Works
Historically low performing and located in economically disadvantaged area of central Los Angeles, Belmont High School has been troubled by many urban obstacles, including factors complicating the abilities of the feeder schools. While ethnic diversity enriches the Pico-Union community, from 73% to 79% of students are from low-income families, as indicated by participation in the free or reduced-price meal program. School’s dropout rates dramatically exceed the state average. Tables 1 and 2 give a breakdown of the community demographic profile.
Research indicates that youth are at greater risk of failing to meet academic expectations when they transition from one level of school to another— elementary to middle school and from middle to high school. The effects of large, impersonal environments in middle and senior high schools can be seen in the increasing rates of gang membership, school violence, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, crime and disciplinary actions. At Belmont High School, the incidence of drug and alcohol use is 5.7 per 1,000 students, compared with 2 per 1,000 students at the other schools, which have smaller student bodies. Belmont’s rate of crime and violence is 9.1 per 1,000 students — versus only 1.1 and 2.6 per 1,000 at the other high schools in the local district. In the category of disciplinary actions, Belmont’s rate of 316 per 1,000 students is nearly double the rates of the other schools. The size and impersonal nature of these schools create a climate in which many students feel disenfranchised and insignificant, leading to disproportionately high drop-out rates, as well as crime and other behaviors requiring disciplinary action.