By Raymond R. Beltran
Helix High graduate Victor Covarrubias will begin classes at San Diego State University a week from Monday having earned a Ryan James Simpson scholarship and state aid that will carry him through the next four years.
He speaks modestly of his academic accomplishments, a 4.3 GPA with honors in math. The young Lemon Grove resident has not yet recognized the obstacles he’s overcome as a Latino student, having grown up in a single parent, five member family, surviving on a yearly income of $17,000.
He attributes his academic success to an early interest in middle school and engaging teachers at an early age, a factor that low income residents say is lacking in Latino neighborhoods which contributes to a rising gap in academic progress between the poor and affluent.
“Thousands of children are being written off by the school system,” says Michael MacCarthy, President of Voters for Truth in Education and member of community organization The People’s Tribunal. “They’re being discriminated against because they’re disadvantaged, ignored.”
Records show that while 49.1 percent of fluent English speaking students at Logan Elementary are reading below grade level, only 11.2 percent are in the same category at schools like La Jolla. Community activists blame, not only the school board, but an influx of unqualified teachers being pushed into poor neighborhoods.
“I want to have people in classrooms who believe that students can in fact learn,” says Reverend Robert C. Ard, pastor of Christ Church in San Diego and tribunal member.
On August 1, The People’s Tribunal interrupted a special school board meeting to indict members on what some refer to as over-the-top charges ranging from child abuse to violating the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “everyone has the right to education.”
Board members and the superintendent did not respond to La Prensa San Diego’s request for an interview.
A former Title I Coordinator for Memorial Academy of Learning and Technology in Sherman Heights, Consuelo Manriquez, says the charges are probably more of an attempt to raise the contradictions in the schools, but says it’s the lack of accountability in the classroom that should be addressed.
“Many schools like to see new teachers because they’re much less money than experienced teachers,” says Manriquez. “But experience matters, how you relate to the students matters.”
Though statistics show that ninety percent of teachers are qualified in the county, she has seen a handful, like at Memorial, who have been hired with an education from University of Phoenix and National University who are far less than adequate to be in underperforming classrooms when compared to teachers produced from UCSD or SDSU.
Prior to No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law in 2002, teachers had the ability to teach core classes (English, Math, Science, and Social Science) outside of their subject with minimal college credits in that area. NCLB requires, this year, that all teachers who instruct any core classes be fully qualified to teach the subject, something Manriquez says may be ignored at Memorial.
High schools like Clairmont, Garfield, Madison, Henry, and Crawford School of Multi-Media currently only maintain 85 percent of qualified staff.
“No Child Left Behind is the backbone of all this,” she says. “It only focuses on the test scores now.”
Since its inception, NCLB has annual academic goals for schools and districts. The idea is that by 2016, all schools will have 100 percent of their students performing proficiently at their grade levels. Schools that fail to meet their annual goals after two consecutive years face penalties. Charters may get revoked or staff positions may be eradicated.
Yet, forty-six percent of Latinos in San Diego’s elementary schools are performing below proficiency levels in Mathematics, while the same bracket of white students are at twelve percent. In Language Arts, the same students are at thirty-seven percent, and white students are at ten percent.
NCLB also designates underper-forming schools as PI (Program Improvement). These schools go through five phases designed to bring students up to par. The first requires the district to transport students to better schools, and the second supplies students with Supplemental Education Services, which tribunal members says only 3,597 out of 24,670 students in Phase II are receiving.
“The school board has been ignoring the needs, hopes, and aspirations of our district schools for a longtime,” says Michael MacCarthy, tribunal member and president of Voters for Truth in Education VOTE. “They say they’re on their way to fixing the problems, but they’re not. They don’t want to pay attention to the issues.”
When asked what he thought caused others with his identical background to fall behind, Covarrubias says he doesn’t know. He’s a hard worker, and so are many other disadvantaged students who aren’t progressing and get discouraged, a feeling that probably contributes to Latinos leading San Diego’s drop out rate, 16.7 percent.