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SCHOOL MATTERS: School Principal Tackles Achievement Gap With Help From Confucius

Sing Tao Daily, News Report, Charles Ding Posted: Mar 28, 2009

Editor's Note: This was originally a three-part series when it ran in the Chinese language newspaper Sing Tao Daily between April and September 2008. The piece won an award for best in-depth/investigative story at the New America Media Southern-California Awards. The article was translated from the original Chinese into English by Kai Lui.

ROSEMEAD, Calif. - On January 8, 2002, then President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which tries to close the achievement gap between white students and African-American and Latino students. It requires that by school year 2013-14, all students should reach the early advanced or advanced levels in English and mathematics tests.

Charles Ding storyConfucius, the great ancient Chinese educator, advocated the idea that proper education levels all social classes, meaning education should be applied to all people, regardless of their social status and wealth. As the two concepts are very similar, some Chinese educators have also called NCLB as the Proper Education Levels All Social Classes Act.

Dr. C.P. Cheung, principal of the Temple Intermediate School located in Garvey, Los Angeles County, has put into practice both the NCLB principle and the proper education levels all social classes principle. He was recently honored by the school board of Monterey Park for the 61 percent Academic Performance Index (API) growth of his school.

API is an important tool used by the California Department of Education to measure the achievement of students. The California Education Act says that schools need to use the API as a goal to raise the achievement of students, including students of different ethnicity, low-income families, English Learner programs and special needs.

In 2001, when Cheung became the principal, the schools score at API was the lowest among the 13 schools in Garvey. In 2007, the schools API rose to 737, an increase of 131.

Under Cheung, Latino students in the school have risen 122 points, which far exceeds the goal of a five-point annual increase set by California Department of Education. Principal Cheung said that the secret to narrowing the achievement gap among races is to make up the difference by hard work and cultural integration.

According to Cheung, his school has a double-digit increase in all the five API-tested subjects; a 36-point increase among the Asian students, 85 points among the Latino, 65 points among the low-income students. Hes even had and a 70-point increase among the English Learner students.

In 2007, the school also set three records in the Garvey School District: fastest progress of English Learner program students, highest student attendance rate, and growth in registration.

Yet change at Temple is not easy. Forty-five percent of the schools students are Latino, and only 28 percent of their parents have had higher education. Eighty-seven percent of the students are entitled to free lunch.

Cheung has introduced two important measures. One is a Saturday tutorial class, from 9 a.m. to noon for students who are behind academically. The second is to implement a progress report system. Students who fail or who cannot complete their work have to fill in a study report every day, which is reviewed weekly by parents, students, teachers, and the principal. The form includes the learning subjects, their classroom performance, tests, homework, the quality of assignment and reviews, and both the teacher and parents have to sign their names.

Cheung quotes a Chinese proverb that says make up the lack of talent by hard work. He interprets this as, by working hard, things can be changed.

Latino students Deres, Cabrera, Ramirez, Suarez, and Arreola agree. They told reporters that the Saturday tutorial class and the after-school program helped improve their scholastic results significantly.

The immigration backgrounds of Asian and Latino students are very similar, but their API scores are very different. The average score of Asian students is 800, which is passing, and the Latino score is 600. This is a difficult issue for educators in California, and Superintendent Jack OConnell has made closing the achievement gap among races his top priority.

Cheung says that education bureaucrats do not take education research seriously, and people do not seriously survey the learning environment and family background of the students. Asian parents, he says, are influenced by a traditional culture that emphasizes education. They have set career goals for their children when they are young. Many want their children to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers, and all these careers require high education. They, therefore, are very concerned with the childrens school record. For example, they strictly limit their childrens access to entertainment.

Latino parents are more respectful of the natural development of their children and do not force children to give up entertainment. Cheung therefore believes that people need to use the Latino culture to educate the Latino students and to create a mutually respectful teaching environment.

Differential Instruction which was the teaching method advocated by Confucius, is also an important tool for Cheung to change the F grade students. For any F grade student parents, student, teachers and principal meet to draft a tutorial plan to develop the potential of the student. Cheung has designed a Teacher-Student Learning Improvement Form, which includes learning difficulties, teaching strategy, expected results and timeline. The Learning Difficulties column is subdivided into classroom teaching, California Standard Test and English Learning.

To encourage parents to participate intensively, the school provides parents with lots of information about the student, including their school scores, the scores of their mathematics and English tests, incomplete assignments and inattentiveness at class.

Gentle guidance was also a teaching method advocated by Confucius. Cheung noticed that negative criticism will not do students any good. He always tells the F grade students, You can do it, and you will pass. Even when criticizing them he will use an encouraging tone, telling them, I believe in you, you can do better next time. He says, Words of praise will give students with poor grades self-respect and will motivate them.

Early Intervention has always been the teaching idea of Cheung. He believes that you dont wait until the release of API results in August before taking action, you need to do this right in the beginning of the school year. The school started the Saturday tutorial program in the first week of September. Cheung meets his students at the school door. If it is raining, he will hold an umbrella and wait for the students at the parking lot and accompany students into the classrooms.

Temple Intermediates Saturday Tutorial is unique, as well. It provides English and mathematics tutorials for students from grades 9-12. In the beginning, only 40 students participated because students were not used to going to school on weekends. But now there are over 200 students in the program, about half of the schools student population; and the number of Latino students participating in the program has also jumped from 10 percent to 50 percent.

Xin Fa Lin, the 8th grade mathematics teacher, was the winner of the Milken Award of Educators in 2007. Eighty percent of his students got the Early Advanced level in the California Standard Test, and 80 percent of his students also passed the high school exit examination. According to the Latino students, Lins instruction is easy to understand and learn. Lin came to the United States from Vietnam as a refugee when he was 15. He is well aware of the challenges faced by the new immigrants and low-income students and he is very happy to help children who have experiences similar to his.

The mathematics tutorial class has a strong teaching team, which includes six students from St. Gabriel High School who serve as counselors. Eight counselors will be assigned to serve a 10-student mathematics tutorial class, thus the ratio of instructors and students is almost one-to-one.

Students participating in the English tutorial classes are mostly new immigrants, with equal numbers of Latino and Asian students. Chinese students Chao, Chen, Chen and Wang came to the United States from Guangdong or Guangxi two years ago. According to the four girls, the tutorial class is better than the regular classroom where there are 30 students and the teacher may not be able to take care of everyone. If they do not know something they do not feel comfortable asking because they dont want to delay the progress of the teaching. They dont have this problem in the tutorial class.

The school provides free breakfast and lunch from Monday through Friday but students coming to the tutorial classes on the weekend arrive with an empty stomach. Cheung appealed to the community. Southern California Edison has donated $10,000 to the program by contracting with a fast food store nearby to provide breakfast to these students for $500 per delivery. In addition, Cheung has also raised $10,000 from the Rosemead Kiwanis to cover the cost of repairing school fences and beautifying the school landscape. Now he is raising money to build a reading park in the school. Wal-Mart has already committed $10,000.

Latino parents Sandoval and Juarez drop off their children to the mathematic tutorial class every Saturday. The two mothers say that since their kids began participating in the tutorial program, they are seeing good results. The mothers never went to college but they know that only with a good education their children can find a good job.

Related Articles:

SCHOOL MATTERS: Active Parents Key to Black Students' Success

African-American Educators Talk about Change and the Unchanged

Charter School Expansion Changes Face of South L.A. Education






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