A great article ran in today's (1/14) LA Times about an elementary
school perennially ranked as one of the top demographic top
comparables for many of our Altadena public elementary schools:
Bunche Elementary in Compton USD. Nobel Prize winner, UN diplomat,
and fellow UCLA alum-named Bunche Elementary is one of my favorites,
and not just because of the tremendous job they're doing to
bring consistently high academic achievement for all students
to their perennially 99% low-income campus.
Due to Bunche's near-mirroring of Altadena public school demographics,
Bunche makes it just about impossible for anyone who might try
to edit generally-accepted measures of demographic comparability
with our Altadena public schools to find any success in minimizing
the enormous academic achievement spread between our lowly Altadena
public schools and their top demographic comparables across
California. There's just no hiding from Ralph Bunche Elementary's
And for those still in search of a great summary of education's
best practices as practiced by many of our top demographic comparables,
I think the Bunche Principal said it all when she was quoted
in the LA Times article as saying:
"(Principal) Solomon Davis recounted a recent discussion
with the principal of Vista Grande Elementary in Rancho Palos
Verdes — where parents assume and demand academic excellence.
"There 'the machine' pushes her," said Solomon Davis.
"Here, you have to push it."
So there you have it: The 101 education best practices we keep
talking about from our home page's Recommended Reading section
, summarized in a single sentence by someone who has truly "mastered
the art of education". To put Solomon Davis' words another
way, perhaps the most striking difference between those who
bring consistently high academic achievement for all students
regardless of race or income and nearly every other educator
in the USA is these stellar educator's willingness to take ownership
of the well-documented and very repeatable fundamentals called
out in study after study after study.
The text from today's LA Times article follows:
A school finds a singular road to academic success
Bunche Elementary defies conventional wisdom and makes rapid
strides without reliance on the state's intervention programs.
By Howard Blume
Times Staff Writer
fifth-grader Alejandra Guizar has already gone to class at Tufts,
Stanford, Emory and Princeton. And it's just by chance that
she missed out on Harvard.
are the names of classrooms at Bunche Elementary School in the
Compton Unified School District. Naming them after colleges
is one small piece of the school's enveloping academic culture
that emphasizes achievement and, ultimately, college aspirations.
students have responded with remarkable gains, defying the conventional
wisdom that poor and minority students are virtually destined
to land on the downside of the achievement gap. And Bunche did
this without the help of the state's two major intervention
programs for low-performing schools.
success puts Bunche at center stage of a debate over the state's
school reforms and the federal No Child Left Behind Act. A group
of contrarian researchers has singled out Bunche and 303 other
rapidly rising California schools as evidence that schools statewide
can and ought to be improving much faster. And that all schools
can reach the target of bringing all students to grade level
rise to the level of expectation we place upon them," said
James S. Lanich, coauthor of the just-released "Failing
Our Future: The Holes in California's School Accountability
System and How to Fix Them." "If we don't have a high
level of expectation, schools won't improve."
of California schools are "failing" under the federal
standards, but one that's shining bright — and adding
its own wrinkle to the debate over school reform — is
Ralph Bunche Elementary, named for the black American diplomat
who won the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize.
this school, the primary mover has been first-time Principal
Mikara Solomon Davis, who arrived in mid-2000. Some would say
she's done the near impossible.
has blown past the target score of 800 on the state's Academic
Performance Index. Its 868 compares favorably to the scores
at schools in Beverly Hills and San Marino. A school would score
875 if every student scored "proficient" on standardized
the school sparkles as well, with clean, recently modernized
classrooms, well-tended grass and rose bushes.
campus sits in what looks to be a solidly middle-class minority
neighborhood in the city of Carson. But a closer look suggests
the classic profile of a school with poor achievement: The student
body is about half black and half Latino, most of the students
speak limited English, and the entire student body qualifies
for free lunches. Some students come from the surrounding neighborhood,
but most are bused from Compton.
1999, the first year of the state's current testing and improvement
regimen, the school ranked in the lowest 10% of schools statewide.
qualified, experienced principals in short supply, the school
system hired a smart, hardworking prospect.
Davis, in her late 20s, had just earned a master's degree in
education at Columbia University, which followed three years
of teaching in Compton. There she impressed her own principal
as one of the most gifted teachers she'd ever supervised.
idealistic, demanding and at the time single, Solomon Davis
critiqued daily the individual lessons of her teachers, including
the veteran ones to whom she made clear: "It's not an 8
a.m. to 2:30 p.m. job. And you're going to be asked to do a
lot of work."
two of 21 teachers remain from before her arrival. About eight
departed, she said, because they disliked the new regimen. Another
half dozen or so made a strong transition but have since retired.
Solomon Davis' hires tended to match her own profile: young,
energetic and relatively inexperienced. There's been substantial
turnover in these ranks as well.
including Solomon Davis, were affiliated with Teach for America,
which places virtually untrained recent graduates from top colleges
in urban classrooms.
what does the Bunche example say about the widely accepted notion
that it's experience that matters most in teaching effectively?
Davis has kept the academic rise going by hiring carefully and
by developing, in essence, her own monitoring and training system.
Her ongoing accountability measures are the state standards
for each grade level, which specify what students are supposed
to know. Top grades for students, she said, have to equal mastery
of these standards.
a recent day, 25-year-old Georgetown University grad Joanna
Belcher was leading her fourth-graders through a crisply paced
lesson on figures of speech. She handed out a passage from "The
House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros, noting: "I
didn't read this till I was in college, but you guys are ready
do you think Sandra Cisneros is using figurative language?"
she asked, not needing to explain the term.
class seemed to be in hurry-up mode, with no room for downtime,
even when children acted out examples of figurative language.
similar pacing was proceeding next door under math teacher Anne
almost the same breath, she calmly explained reducing fractions
while also telling a slouching student to sit up and admonishing
hope you're feeling more comfortable than you're showing. Once
again, this is on your test tomorrow."
a sense that the staff knows it's playing catch-up. Solomon
Davis recounted a recent discussion with the principal of Vista
Grande Elementary in Rancho Palos Verdes — where parents
assume and demand academic excellence.
'the machine' pushes her," said Solomon Davis. "Here,
you have to push it."
that means pushing parents, who adjusted to a principal who
in her first year issued more than 100 suspensions in a school
of 467 students.
was such an issue with discipline that you couldn't teach. Disrespect
for teachers and adults was the norm," said Solomon Davis.
When parents confront her over a suspension, "I begin by
saying, 'Our goal is college for your child. We're not here
to punish,' " Solomon Davis said.
would parents in a prosperous neighborhood accept such a discipline-heavy
school? There also has been little room for arts and physical
education, which suburban parents typically expect and raise
funds to get more of.
formula works for Kimberly Bush, who moved her children to Bunche
from a Catholic school, where it didn't seem to her that the
staff had college expectations for students.
bookkeeper Aneteria White said she checked out the school's
test scores on the Internet before signing up 9-year-old Benjamin.
fourth-grader said his previous public school was dirtier and
gang members sometimes would jump the fence, which scared him.
learning more here," he said.
if the school's rising reputation is attracting motivated parents,
is that responsible for some of the improved achievement? Some
researchers believe in this effect, especially at some charter
schools, and say that it can skew a comparison with other schools.
11, always was a strong student but has progressed from speaking
limited English to testing as "advanced" in English
as well as in math.
I like best is that we have high academics," said Alejandra,
the editor of the school newspaper. "I like that our teachers
are very wonderful and they try to challenge our minds."
Mykayla Rowley entered the school in second grade testing "below
basic." In last year's fourth-grade state tests, she earned
a "proficient" in English and an "advanced"
Davis hasn't taken part in either of the two recent state intervention
programs — so she hasn't had the benefit of as much as
$400 extra per student per year. But she does get the state
and federal money that has, for years, been provided to schools
that serve limited English-speaking students and those from
low-income families. At her school, that's added up to about
$240,000 a year.
way we spend our money is a huge part of what we do," said
Solomon Davis. "We really use every dollar and try to spend
it in the classroom and on the students."
of the funding went to reduce class sizes and to pay teachers
to tutor after school. Until recently, she handled the extra
administrative work for these programs herself to make the money
go further. Solomon Davis is currently on extended maternity
leave and relying on interim Principal Amber Young, 27, a Teach
For America hire who stayed to become the principal's protege.
the Bunche success story can be readily emulated, then the federal
goal of having all students quickly at grade level lies within
reach. But many academics and state education officials —
who insist that they support high standards — say the
federal 2014 timetable is unrealistic, especially for middle
and high schools and also because more money is needed to do
honor roll lists 262 elementary schools, but only seven middle
schools. Among some 900 L.A. Unified schools, 13 elementary
schools are on the list and no middle schools.
Bunche on the trajectory to 100% proficiency requires constant
vigilance, said Solomon Davis — and she's ever on the
hunt for new ideas to help her students learn: "It will
always be a challenge to keep it going."
it comes to the real Harvard, she doesn't want Alejandra and
her classmates to miss out.