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From Chuck Olynyk: DISTANCES

June 30, 2012

Thank goodness for Chuck and his ability to synthesize all of this information.   If you want to know how Fremont managed to magically graduate 700 plus students the answer is below.  And now of course,  it is all crystal clear.  Only brand new teachers from TFA and others would be pressured to lower standards.  We veterans would have been quite suspect of online programs such as APEX in which you can complete a class in a matter of hours- I know because at the CDS, we used something called E2020, a uniformally dismal and uninteresting set of classes so students could catch up on credits.  There was a loophole: they could try to challenge a course through taking a test- and the parameters of passing or failng are set by the staff- on virtually all parts of the course.   Our particular students didn’t do well on this because they had poor attention spans but someone who wants to “walk the stage”  would be motivated to knock out an E2020 course in no time.   It’s all coming together now, isn’t it.  And the principle players have vanished into the night- McKenna retiring on a six -figure pension,  Thompson demoted to a school site and Balderas- well, all I have to say to Bell High School is start organizing now.  


Posted by Chuck Olynyk on June 30, 2012 at 8:25 PM

Today is Saturday, June 30, 2012 and Day 172 of Year Three. It is also Day 796 since I began writing these posts and Day 728 PF (Post-Fremont). That would be June 25, 2010 when I packed my laptop and coffee maker and left the Mont. I wrote some 78,000 words in 63 posts while I was at Fremont. Following that, I added some 365,000 more words, decrying the injustice of what happened. I’m looking at the words, wondering what I wrote, did I waste my time? Was I part of the problem?

We (I can write “we” for that year—it was my last of sixteen) had 501 students graduate that year.

I’ve never felt further away from it than I do right now. (“Ya come far, pilgrim.” “Feels like far.” Bear Claw to Jeremiah Johnson, “Jeremiah Johnson”) “Fremont High graduates 700 plus students, a school record”

I’d thought about writing a mea culpa and throwing myself on my sword (sorry, I’ve been introducing HBO’s “Rome” to a friend and already passed the scenes where Scipio and Cato do this when they realize all is lost) for having dragged people through my musings when I and the teachers I was defending may have been part of the problem.

What tore at my heart last night was to see a familiar name in the article, a student who had graduated, perhaps in spite of me. Perhaps these new amazing teacher-trainees who had received a few weeks of teacher boot camp through TFA were able to undo the damage caused by me—and all the other screw-ups.

I’d written about her on May 28, 2010, with 34 days left at Fremont. It was reposted by Anthony Cody at Teacher Monthly as “A Casualty In the War On Public Education” It was also reposted by Sabrina Steven Shupe at:

Had I failed her? Did someone have to clean up my mess?

It is a bit daunting. After all, this was spearheaded by Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines (“L.A. School Officials Will Shut Down Fremont High, Start Over” and with the silent approval of UTLA’s A.J. Duffy. Dr. George McKenna III was there to tell us to just go along (“Just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean it’s not logical.”) (Did you know he was played by Denzel Washington in a made-for-TV movie?). Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to the “new Fremont,” praising the actions (,0,6591297.story). And the man on the ground was Principal Rafael Balderas, whom State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has now included as part of his Educator Excellence Task Force, a central element of his Blueprint for Great Schools

And how can one argue with success? I know some good teachers remained at the Mont—for various reasons, and not all were self-serving. They remained in spite of abuse I’ll remind you of, or to be with “their kids.” They put up with a lot. “Efforts to improve Fremont included renovated athletic fields and spruced-up buildings, as well as an increase in student activities and academic support…” Well, I know at least one person who told me she was staying for the new fields. I thought about those new fields while I watched her berated by at AP, who was simultaneously signing my exit papers. That field must have meant a lot.

Then I started flipping through those 440,000 words and a few news stories.

Dropout rates decreased statewide, according to a story the Los Angeles Times published on Wednesday (written by Howard Blume) and graduation rates increased. “Dropouts down, graduates up, state reports” “The state graduation rate was 76.3%, up 1.5 percentage points from 2010, with larger gains among Latinos and blacks as well as among students from low-income families…” Great! Just as state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson noted about the dropout rate decreasing by 2.2 percentage points to 14.4% for the class of 2011, when compared to the class of 2010 (Previous classes can’t be compared due to statistical voodoo I don’t comprehend but which I’m told doesn’t work.)

Then comes the graduation rate closer to home: “L.A. Unified had less welcome news with its graduation rate, which went down from 62.4% to 61.6%, according to state data…” Still, there were gains. Manual Arts, which is now undergoing reconstitution, “…increased its graduation rate, by 1.2%, to 65.6%…” Which means they had a higher graduation rate last year than the LAUSD average, increased graduation by 1.2%–and are still going to undergo reconstitution because of… what? Low test scores?

Then we turn to Fremont, in a story written two days later by the same Howard Blume. “Fremont High this week graduated more than 700 students, the most in the school’s history, district officials said. The South Los Angeles school is two years into a shakeup that resulted in more than half the teachers leaving. Some students and parents remain critical of district efforts, but others cited the number of graduates as a clear sign of progress. The 700-plus graduates compares with 494 last year and 501 the year prior…”

When it comes to math, I stink on ice. I joke with my students that I wear sandals for that reason. (This usually causes some of them to immediately look at my feet to confirm what I am saying. Sorry, I’m not part of “…the new staff was younger and could better relate to students in how they taught…”). Since I don’t have the actual number of graduates this year, I went with 700. Let’s see… 700 minus 494 equals 206. 206 divided by 494 equals 41.7%. I know that Spock would correct McCoy with a deep-voiced, “Doctor, to be more precise 41.700404858—“ “Damn it, I’m a doctor, not a mathematician!” and Kirk would say, “So it’s about 42%.” I’ll go with that.

So, I’m sure I’ll get the corrections from somebody, but that looks to my unmathematical eye (although the math portion of any standardized test is the one I always scored highest on… go figure…) that the graduation rate increased by… 42%?

Wow, if Manual Arts, which was ahead of the District average of 61.6% by 4% and is still being reconstituted, they need to clearly follow the Fremont formula.

What is the formula, the magic bullet? Come on! We all know that one size fits all, that there has to be a magic bullet someplace. It wasn’t about CST scores: those only went up a couple of points (one point higher than my school at Roosevelt). I don’t think it had to do with the CAHSEE scores, for those also crept up from 41% in 2010 to 46% 2011, but that was improvement. LAUSD is at 66%, by the way.

SAT or ACT? The number of students who scored 1400 on the SAT or 19 on the ACT dropped from 21% to 13 % (LAUSD is at 38%), so I don’t think it’s that. And while the graduation rate has increased so dramatically, the number of graduates getting a C or better in A-G courses (and remember, LAUSD has moved in that direction) dropped from 29% down to 20% (The District average is at 25%).

So what is the magic formula? If Principal Rafael Balderas has to move on because his work at Fremont is done and he saved a failing school, perhaps he can repeat success at Manual Arts instead of going to Bell High School.

What tricks could he use? Let’s see if these sound familiar:

“The key words: ‘It’s bad over there.’ As to others going to Fremont, ‘No, the environment is too angry.’”—Dr. Thompson of Learning District 7, Day 75, Year Two, “Money Talks”

“When Fremont was reconstituted, Principal Rafael Balderas lied to his staff and faculty. These were not simple “miscommunications.” These were bald-faced lies. These were threats: the threat of not being paid over the summer, but if we remained under his gentle wing, all would be well, that we would be displaced but could not leave Learning District 7, that we would lose our jobs. And fear is used again, dressed up in the clothes of a pox-ridden whore: “If veteran teachers transfer from Fremont, they may end up as displaced teachers.” “If new teachers try to leave Fremont, they’ll receive RIF notices.”—Day 81, Year Two, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”

“And we had difficulties in our interviews. It also didn’t help that the principal issued that infamous memo on pink paper, stating neither he nor his APs would write letters of recommendation. Nor did it help when I had my time card altered just prior to my evaluation. For two years in a row, I would see, just before I went into my meeting, little red dots appear like measles all over my time card; the dots signified I was either tardy, if they went into the upper box I was to initial upon arrival, or in the lower box if I failed to sign out. Understand I showed up at Fremont at 5:30 in the morning. I could lock myself away and get work done. I beat the administrators to school. Yet somehow I was chronically late to work…

“In today’s Los Angeles Times is a piece written by Howard Blume, “Teachers from low-performing schools face stigma on job search”,0,7226228.story. In it, he writes of 1000 teachers from eight schools facing difficulties because of reconstitution or, as he puts it, restructuring. According to Mr. Blume, more than 300 elected to leave or were not rehired; 625 others ended up in this position because of hand-over to charters or cuts…”—Day 179, Year Two, “Stir It Up”

But I think this one pretty much says what I need to say:

“In the Los Angeles Times appears an article by Howard Blume: ‘Fremont High reportedly doing better, but staffing difficulties weren’t revealed.’ While Mr. Blume, and I will call him Mr. Blume even though he once would have objected and insisted he be called Howard, quotes Superintendent Cortines in an open letter to the faculty, ‘I would be remiss and did not congratulate and commend you and tell you how proud I am of the report that was shared with me regarding Fremont High School’s progress. Thank you, thank you, thank you.’

“Too bad Mr. Blume doesn’t include the information which appears in two documents sitting next to the teacher sign in sheets at Fremont. One congratulates teachers for the wonderful job they did in the 2009-2010 school year raising the API. The other document also congratulates teachers for the 28 point increase in the API scores.

“Some of that has to do with the teachers that chose to remain. Some of that has to do with the ones that left, including the 70% that Principal Rafael Balderas says declined to reapply. Of course, he is the same man who said that the school was fully staffed, as is now revealed to be in the L.A. Times… incorrect.

“Even now, I would seriously question the statement that “Four staff positions were left unfilled in late September.” Nor would I trust the statement that “a couple” of teachers worked off-track to fill unfilled positions…”—Day 172 PF, “Liar”

To my former student: I’m glad you graduated. Congratulations. I know you earned your diploma, if you’re anything like the young lady you were two years ago. And, without knowing it, you helped me—again. Seeing your name forced me to re-examine what happened at Fremont. Knowing what I know now, being where I am now, I know I would have made the same choices.

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