Opinion

Ravi: My District of Long Beach, California, Doesn’t Deliver an Equitable Education to All Students. That’s Why I’m Opening a Charter HS

By Anita Ravi | November 4, 2018

I grew up in Sudbury, Massachusetts, home of the very first town meeting on this continent, in 1649. My mother, a Daughter of the American Revolution, and my father, an immigrant from India, attended this town meeting monthly and instilled in me a deep sense of civic responsibility and civic engagement.

These deep roots in civic activism propelled me to a career in public education. As a teacher, school district leader, and teacher educator these past 26 years, I continue to believe that my responsibility as a citizen is to create pathways for our youth to lives and careers of active engagement in shaping the future of our country and our planet.

As an educator and resident of Long Beach, California, I am dismayed to see our school district abdicating its responsibility to serve all students equitably. It is the very reason I am opening We the People High School, an innovative, tuition-free public charter school slated to open in fall 2019 in Long Beach that will focus on engaging our youth in social change.

Long Beach Unified School District has become a heartbreaking tale of haves vs. have-nots and has long been negligent in serving its highest-needs students. In May, the district settled a lawsuit that exposed its misallocation of more than $40 million in state education funding that was specifically designed to increase or improve services for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth. Unfortunately, the settlement is not enough to address the long-standing opportunity gap that persists.

The district’s High School Choice process continues to exacerbate these inequalities. The opportunity gap widens significantly starting in middle school, as the district utilizes a formula based on state test scores and student grade point average from sixth and seventh grade to place students into different high school small learning communities or specialized programs. What these euphemistic labels mean in practice is that some students are offered a college-preparatory curriculum in high school and some are not, based on how “well” they did in school when they were 11 and 12 years old.

Name one parent who feels their child should not be given the opportunity to go to college. You can’t be college-ready if you’re not given access to college-prep courses.

At We the People High School, we deeply believe it is our responsibility to prepare all students for college, and all our students will have access to a college preparatory curriculum. We also believe that college degree attainment is a necessary but insufficient preparation for the real world, which is why We the People will focus on civic action, learning by doing, and the development of skills and habits aligned to our “Envision, Design, Create” thematic pillars. For students who have not been successful in the traditional school model in middle school, we will offer a dynamic program of study that offers multiple entry points into culturally relevant content and an emphasis on activism through education. Our small-school model, small class sizes, and advisory structures will ensure that students are known, heard, and supported each and every day.

Since summer 2017, we have engaged the broader community in understanding, shaping, and co-designing our school model. Our student “pop-ups” are designed to engage students in social activism through art and media creation, while gathering critical feedback to ensure our model is designed to meet the needs of all learners. We have reached out to diverse community groups, such as the Cambodian Association of America and Latinas in Action, to provide parents the chance to influence and shape the very school their children may attend.

It is abundantly clear that our nation’s youth are more than ready to show how their power can both change and create a world where inclusion is valued and systemic issues are addressed. Youth activists in Chicago, in Parkland, and in Long Beach show us every day that the survival of our democracy depends on their ability to make change. We the People High School will strengthen and encourage these voices through an equitable program that engages students in solving the most pressing issues of our time, while putting all students on a trajectory for college.

Anita Ravi is a Long Beach, California, resident and veteran educator, having worked as a teacher, school district leader, and teacher educator for 26 years. She was formerly chief academic officer at Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, a network of high-performing public charter schools in Los Angeles County.

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