The Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday that no schools in California are "overly dangerous." That's a relief.
True, many of them use metal detectors and closed-circuit television surveillance (described by the L.A. Unified School District's police chief as "precautions, not signs of danger"); and there is the "accidental shooting" here and there in a science class, for example; and, yes, last year one Los Angeles high school reported seven assaults with deadly weapons and five batteries, while at another campus in south L.A. (with similar crime statistics) there was a brawl in March "involving several hundred students who confronted baton-wielding officers." But in the words of the L.A. schools' police chief: "we have combat, or the occasional knife and gun..." but "to label such schools as 'persistently dangerous' would be a disservice to students, making them feel like their schools are places 'where you shoot your way in and shoot your way out'."
No, we wouldn't want them to feel like that, would we?
So why is this subject coming up at all? Because the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act requires California (and all other states) to allow students at crime-ridden schools (those that are deemed "persistently dangerous") to transfer to safer schools starting in September. The problem is that the law left it to the individual states to define what constitutes persistent danger. And California has decided to define that term so narrowly that no schools qualify. Reed Hastings, president of the State Board of Education, seems pleased. "We should feel good that so far our districts haven't allowed persistence to occur," he said recently. "[This] is not to imply," he went on, "that there are no unsafe schools. That would be a bit of an overstatement." What? One parent, Patricia Pruitt, reported to the Times in November that she tells her daughter to "...protect yourself however you can. Pack a knife if you have to...." (Maybe she was unaware of the schools' "zero-tolerance" policies.) But, for his part, the State Board of Education president is feeling pretty good about things.
Speaking of persistence (or the lack thereof), the Times also reported on Thursday that the dreaded high-school exit exam (designed to test the English and math skills of high school seniors beginning with the class of 2004) has been postponed until 2006 by vote of the State Board. Why? It seems that the test, which is geared to a ninth-grade level in math and a 10th grade level in English, is too hard for many of California's 12th graders. Only 44% of the students in the Class of 2004 passed the math section on their first attempt, and only 64% of those students passed the English section. A recent study estimates that if the Class of '04 has to take the test next year, 20% will fail both the math and the English section.
The vote to delay the test was unanimous. The Board also decided to reduce the English test from 82 multiple choice questions to 72 questions; and instead of two essays to write, the students will now only have to write one. The Board had apparently also considered "watering down the passing mark in math" but decided just to delay the testing altogether instead. According to Board President Hastings, all of this will "[keep] the pressure on the system to improve instruction." This, clearly, is what happens when logic gets dropped from the curriculum.
Students across the state are celebrating. Let's hope they left their guns at home.