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  • Tuesday, May 12, 2009


    SPECIAL REPORT: Students not taught fundamentals of American Culture at an Orange Unified middle school

    A special investigative report from Orange Net News /O/N/N/

    Students not taught fundamentals of
    American Culture at an Orange Unified middle school

    Orange Unified School District over the years has led the way in its share of educationally innovative, politically popular, and often controversial educational approaches. In 1997, Orange Unified was the first unified school district in California to end the controversial 1970’s era state mandated bi-lingual education in favor of English immersion programs (three other elementary districts in Orange County preceded OUSD). OUSD’s effort led to a court ruling in favor of OUSD stopping the California Department of Education from requiring waivers to then expired bi-lingual legislation. Past OUSD Boards have been in the forefront of state school districts adopting the California State Content Standards long before being required to do so by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. Now one school in Orange Unified, in an attempt to meet state test scores in math and language, has stopped teaching the adoptive state standards in history, including American history, to immigrant students, children of immigrants, and natural born American students in an attempt to bring up language arts and math scores. The OUSD school is the district’s poorest performing middle school with the highest minority student population- Portola Middle School. The Portola “No History for Below Proficient Students” policy for its lowest students has been in place while district administrators apparently turned a blind eye to the practice.

    Portola Middle School, located in the City of Orange, is the school district’s longest state designated Program Improvement School (a designation formally known as Underperforming Schools), Portola has been state designated as a Program Improvement school since the 1998-1999 school year. In 2008, state records show Portola had 871 students take the state and federal mandated assessment tests. Of those 871 students, 658 students (75%) are identified in the federal No Child Left Behind subgroup of “Hispanic/Latino”, 474 (54%) are identified as being in the “English Learners” subgroup, and 100 (12%) are identified in the “Asian” subgroup. A total of 64 students (less than 1%) were identified as “White (not of Hispanic origin)”. All California students are required to take a cumulative history standards test at the end of eighth grade as part of the California Standards (STAR) testing. The California STAR History Standards Test covers all of the California history standards for 6th, 7th and 8th grades. The students at Portola who did not have history classes are still required to take the cumulative STAR History Standards test. The latest results of the cumulative 8th Grade STAR History Standards Test at Portola show 72% of Portola students were below the required state proficiency level compared to 54% district-wide. Only 27% of the Portola students achieved the Proficient level and above (15% Proficient, 13% Advanced) compared to 47% district-wide (25% Proficient, 22% Advanced).

    That high number of Portola students testing below proficient in history standards apparently is directly tied to the fact that they are required by the state to take a comprehensive test at the end of eight grade on the California State History Standards, yet are not being taught the history standards at Portola Middle School. The fact that so many Portola students are not taking history appears to have taken place while the OUSD Administrators watched silently. In reality, OUSD is not only setting those students up for failure on a test that they are required by to take by the State of California, but also creating a whole class of minority students not being enculturation into common American culture, American ideals, and American democratic values.

    The California State History-Social Science Framework (adopted by OUSD) includes three main Curriculum Goals with 12 learning strands. The Curriculum Goals outline how important teaching history is to America as democratic society and culture. One of the three California History Framework Curriculum Goals is the “Goal of Knowledge and Cultural Understanding”. Among the six learning strands in this goal are “Social-Political Literacy”; Cultural Literacy” and “Economic” and “Historic” literacy. Another goal of the California State History-Social Science Framework is “Skills and Social Participation” which includes the strand of critical thinking skills. The final goal is the “Goal of Democratic Understanding and Civic Values”. The learning strands under this goal include an understanding of the American National Identity, our American Constitutional Heritage, American Civic Values, American Rights and Responsibilities, as well specifically teaching of the historic contributions of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Clearly, at a minority school with a large immigrant population, these are not just learning goals, but necessities for assimilation into the American culture. Failing to teach these basic American ideals, values, rights and responsibilities, but still requiring the students to be tested on these is a true travesty of education and contradictory to basic American values of fairness that the framework itself instills.

    The California State History-Social Science Framework states that history provides a “common memory”. In California, history and social sciences are designed to be presented chronologically across the grades. In middle schools, 6th grade history covers ancient world history and civilizations that includes early Greek democracy (the foundations of American democracy) and the early Judeo-Christian monotheism religious beliefs. In the seventh grade, the curriculum covers from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance and Enlightenment period (the spark for the American Revolution). In the eight grade, American history is covered from the establishment of the American Republic to the Civil War and its aftermath focusing on what the framework calls a “continuing emphasis on democratic values” that is mandated by the state standards. By not providing this state mandated historic education to the Portola Middle School students, Orange Unified is clearly not providing the most needy and lacking students with a solid foundation in American traditions, American culture, and American democracy. Or as the Framework describes it, “ethical traditions” “political arrangements”, basic American “economic goals” and simply “understanding what is required of a citizen in a participatory democracy”. This raises the question of whether the Portola Middle School students not receiving state mandated history are being relegated to a second class citizenship and an identity crisis based on ignorance of the American culture?

    In response to an inquiry from Orange Net News to Orange Unified about the current practice of state identified below proficient students not being scheduled for history classes at Portola Middle School, Orange Unified Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Dr. Marsha Brown wrote:

    “I apologize for taking longer than I anticipated to respond to your request regarding the schedule at Portola Middle School. Upon further investigation, it has been determined that the master schedule, and all other related issues, at Portola is a site decision. The District was not involved in the decisions taken at Portola regarding student schedules.”

    While the reality of OUSD Administrators not being concerned about the continual dismal scores on the state history test enough to investigate the Portola “No History” practice is hard enough to believe, ONN inquiries with Portola staff has resulted in disturbing stories of the current school administration toward those who questioned the policy and have confirmed the awareness of OUSD Administrators in the scheduling practice at Portola. At the school site, teachers have reported district officials were well aware of the “No History for Below Proficient Students” policy as part of the schools plan to improve language arts and math scores as a Program Improvement school. Reportedly, the staff was told that the reason for the “No History for Below Proficient” students (with full knowledge that they would be tested by the state on history at the end of their 8th grade) was that the below proficient students needed extra help in math and English language support and History could be dropped from those student’s schedules. The either/or scenario however appears to be a fallacy when the programs at the other OUSD middle schools are examined. At OUSD’s other middle schools, the below proficient students receive both the extra help in math and language arts and have history classes. Santiago Charter and Yorba Middle Schools specifically offer English language learners state authorized SDAIE (Specially Designated Academic Instruction in English) classes. The California Department of Education explains the SDAIE courses as:

    “designed for nonnative speakers of English and focuses on increasing the comprehensibility of the academic courses typically provided to FEP and English-only students in the district”.

    In the Age of Education Accountability, setting students up for failure on a required state test by not giving them access to the curriculum sends the wrong message. Furthermore, the district’s response solely blaming the Portola administrators “that the master schedule, and all other related issues, at Portola is a site decision” also stretches the boundaries of accountability. While reports are circulating throughout OUSD that the current Portola administrators are being replaced, there is no evidence that the student scheduling for next year has been changed to offer OUSD’s highest immigrant connected student population the standards based enculturation into basic American ideals, American values, American rights and responsibilities required by California and Orange Unified. Without a policy change and scheduling changes, Portola will continue to set its students up for failure on a test that the State of California requires them to take based on state standards the school is required to teach.

    To view the California State History Standards and actual released questions from the California History Standards Test CLICK ON:
    CA HISTORY Standards and Questions

    A news service of Orange Net News /O/N/N/

    Ecast on the
    A 21st Century Communications System

    Produced by the
    Orange Communication System /OCS/

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