Tuesday, June 30, 2009

There is no comparison

Recently, I was asked "how [Brown] compares to what [I am] doing at El Cerrito High School... Do[es El Cerrito] have the rigor? Are other students more prepared than [El Cerrito's] students? What are [my] observations about our readiness?"

I didn't even have to think for a second before I knew the answer.

El Cerrito High School does not compare. Not at all.

I can honestly say, this is the only course I've taken in my high school career in which I asked a teacher for help.

I can honestly say, my times at Brown and Cornell are the only times in my high school career that I've been surrounded by motivated students.

I can honestly say, this is the only time I've gotten lower than a B+ on a quiz in my high school career.

I can honestly say, El Cerrito High School hasn't prepared me at all for the work I'm doing here.

I could count on one hand the number of students at El Cerrito, including my self, who even begin to compare to these kids.

Its not that they're smarter than us. But they're more prepared, their schools offer accelerated math programs starting in middle school, they offer programs in conjunction with local universities, they offer AP Latin, AP Physics, AP Economics, AP Psychology, even AP Art. They offer IB, fencing, and lacrosse.

These kids have been to Turkey, Japan, or Bonnaroo.

How do we even begin to compete with these kids? Kid's who have spent their whole lives preparing for the SAT's, whose parents are doctors, scientists, or ambassadors?

When it comes down to it, I guess we just have to do our best, ask for extra help, and grab every opportunity with our teeth and hold on tight. Because if we don't, we can kiss the east coast goodbye.

Until next time,
Joseph Young


Don Gosney said...


This is the best blog posting yet. I wish that we could force every taxpayer in the District to read this.

There's no question that everything you wrote is true. Even amongst the best and the brightest that we've been sending back east we've sent that, in so many areas, no matter how much we spend and what we do, we're not properly preparing you for the schools we expect you to compete in.

I have a friend who lives down on the Peninsula and she sends her two children to the local high school where they offer 56 AP classes--56! The parents voluntarily kick in $600,000 per year to pay for two full time college career guidance counselors. The parents form groups to work with their kids to provide them with the backup and resources to make full use of the educational opportunities placed in front of them. Parents actually talk to their kids about what's going on in their classes and sit down with them to help with their studies.

How can we expect any of you to be competitive against that when we're fighting every day to find the resources to keep the lights on, when we're asking ourselves whether the 50 year old chemistry textbooks will suffice for another year (you know the ones I'm referring to--the ones where the Periodic Table of Elements is missing a handful of the elements that were discovered after WWII), where a large part of our resources are used to teach our kids in multiple languages or to teach them enough English so they can blend into the standard classes, where the turnover in our teachings staff is so frequent there's little continuity or tradition left?

I attend enough meetings and listen to enough people who have all of the solutions to our problems but I'm not buying into their logic or thinking process yet. They haven't been able to convince me that if we convert over to Charter Schools, if we put God back in our classrooms or if we use our resources to allow our teachers to retire earlier, that this will fix our problems.

I'd love to sit down to discuss these problems with people who don't have their own axe to grind. This would very definitely include a whole lot of students. The students--students like yourself, Joseph--are the end users of our educational system. If we want to know what's broken, do we need to hire another high priced consultant or do you think we should ask the students what's wrong and what they think might be the fix?

Sadly, Joseph, it takes programs like the ILC where we send some very bright students off to compete against other bright students for it to come home to roost. We can run around all day long patting ourselves on the back and telling ourselves that our schools aren't so bad but when we send our students out for some head to head competition, that's when the truth really shines and, if we're paying attention,we might see that we have problems that need to be addressed.

Charles Tillman Ramsey said...

Thanks Joseph. Our district needs a dose of reality. I could feel your passion and your anger in this post. Too often elected officials and school administrators hide behind the rhetoric. You brought home in a sobering message our failures as a district.

While reading your post I sensed that we were on the Titanic and that only through a lucky break would we get saved. I hope that our other ILC students will weigh in on this meaty subject and share their personal views about the district's readiness in preparing our students for the next level.

Thanks for sharing.

Charles T. Ramsey, Esq.
School Board Member
West Contra Costa
Unified School District