LA Elementary

26 May

The push for STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education is based on a fraud, a corollary of the H1B visa program fraud. There is no shortage of STEM educated graduates in the US nor is there likely to be in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, when presented an opportunity to participate in STEM day activities at Lincoln Acres Elementary School, I jumped at the chance.

As a member of the San Diego County CAL Pass Science Council (council was destroyed in 2013 when a corporate data mining company purchased CAL Pass), I had participated in a learning enhancement program at LA Elementary two years earlier and fell in love with the place especially the children. Primary grade kids are really fun. They are thrilled at the idea that a high school teacher is coming to teach them. My regular students are not thrilled, maybe engaged but not thrilled!

Lincoln Acres Elementary School was established in 1927 and sits in the middle of an economically challenged neighborhood in National City, California. Ninety-four percent of the school’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch and 65% are language learners so of course the federal government labels this a failing school!

Anyone who visits the campus and meets the staff and students sees a wonderful institution. It’s professionally run and organized, the students are in uniforms, the school has a wonderful mix of veteran and youthful educators. The rooms are equipped with Promethean electronic white boards and class sizes are reasonable.  The students are engaged. Learning is happening and some of these students will go on to achieve academic excellence at elite Universities throughout the US. A friend of mine traveled the LA Elementary school path to Yale and then to a Doctorate in Economics from UC Berkley.

For STEM day, I arrived early and met a campus assistant in the staff parking lot who showed me where to park and let me into the campus. Soon, I saw that assistant supervising breakfast for all of the school’s students. An assistant principal took me to my room where I would be doing an hour long hands on lesson about simple DC circuits. She told me they feed breakfast and lunch to 100% of the students because it was more cost effective than trying to separate out the 6% who did not actually qualify. Breakfast looked great. I like eggs, muffins and bananas.

I noticed that as students arrived they were putting their backpacks in numbered circles on a large paved area then walking in an extensive circle. I joined them for a morning constitutional all the time wondering how this large school wide event was organized and how efficiently the students would arrive in my designated room. Soon teachers appeared near the circle of walking students, the bell rang and the students immediately joined their teachers in their class’s designate area. Announcements were broadcast and the students recited the pledge of allegiance to the US flag.

Students and teachers all disappeared in different directions. Within three minutes an announcement was broadcast for everyone to go to the day’s first event. In less than five minutes 16 sixth graders showed up at my room with a packet of tickets, the first of which was for admission to my circuits’ lesson.

The real joy began. I gave the students in groups of two a light bulb, a battery, a piece of wire and a written prompt. I told them to turn on the light bulb. Very quickly one young guy got his light bulb on just after telling me it was impossible. Of course, then everyone else saw his success and pretty soon I had eight functioning lights. We used science vocabulary and drew pictures of complete circuits. The children were engaged and on task. It was wonderful. Some of them just might have had their love of science further stoked.

Near the end of our session, I started discussing what it would be like at Granger Middle School next year and Sweetwater High School in following years. That is when corporate education reform raised its ugly destructive head. One of the girls said, “Granger and Sweetwater are bad. They have bad test scores. I am going to Bonita.”

Bonita Middle School and Bonita High School are in the same school district but in a much wealthier community. When I taught at Bonita High, most of the cars in the student parking lot were far better and more expensive looking than the cars in the faculty parking lot. I know from personal experience that Granger and Sweetwater are equal to the Bonita schools as far as quality of programs, teachers and institution, but they get lower test scores. So, the parents of every student at Lincoln Acers Elementary School is sent a letter telling them that Granger and Sweetwater are failing schools therefore under NCLB, parents have the right to send their child out of the community to a school with good test results.

These benighted federal policies are harming great schools and undermining community development. Top down standards based education and accountability are perfidy harming democracy. Excellent schools are falsely labeled failures based on test scores that do accurately reflect the cultural capital of the community, however these scores are obtained by instruments that are not designed for judging quality of education or capable of providing cogent information for those judgments.

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