Another teacher turned crusader
A few months ago, I began corresponding with (now former) Los Angeles teacher, Leonard Isenberg. An experienced and accomplished educator, he was nevertheless pushed out of the profession for reporting and resisting the practice of passing and graduating high school students who didn’t have the skills implied by their diploma. Though LAUSD has joined the many districts across the nation that claim to be increasingly “data-driven,” Leonard was retaliated against for using data to demonstrate that Central High School was handing out diplomas to students who hadn’t earned them. From one of Dr. Jim Taylor’s blog posts about him at Psychology Today:
After a career in the motion-picture and real estate industries, he gave up the income and trappings of success to pursue a career in teaching, first as a university professor and, for the last 15 years, as a teacher in Los Angeles-area high schools that serve disadvantaged children. Sounds like one of those unsung heroes of public education to me.
Here’s where the tragedy begins. In the fall of 2009, Mr. Isenberg filed a formal complaint with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) challenging the validity of high school diplomas that students at the high school at which he taught received the previous June based on his review of students’ Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) reading test scores. The STAR is a state-wide, computer-based assessment given by teachers several times during the school year, the purpose of which is to evaluate students’ initial reading level upon entry into class and their progress through the school year. Mr. Isenberg found that almost 50% of the graduates who had STAR scores on record were reading at an elementary school level, with some as low as 2nd grade proficiency. The response from the high school’s and LAUSD’s administrations was uniform: students just blew off the test because they were already guaranteed their diploma. One LAUSD official formally determined that Mr. Isenberg’s allegations were without merit without ever interviewing him or reviewing the evidence he had collected. By the way, having this particular official, who is just two steps removed from teachers in the same school district food chain, investigate Mr. Isenberg’s allegations is like asking the fox to investigate who stole the hens from the chicken coop.
Though the “blew it off” explanation is, I suppose, possible, it hardly seems probable. If students didn’t take the test seriously, what is the point of giving it at all? As this test is a statewide requirement and is used in evaluating the quality of the schools, wouldn’t this same problem have arisen throughout the state and wouldn’t alarms have gone off if the problem was truly endemic?
(I always find it interesting when the tables turn like this, when the Data that are at all other times so important suddenly become faulty or insignificant when their implications become inconvenient for someone else besides classroom teachers and principals, or threaten powerful people’s interests.)
Leonard now spends his time documenting problems that hamper student achievement in LAUSD and across America on his site, Perdaily.com. For more on his take on some of these issues, check out his site and the video below.