Challenging Inequalities: Private, Public, And Charter Schools in Southern California

Diversity in the United States is multifaceted, with diversity in race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, religion, social class, and identities within those communities. Students share experiences within these diverse communities, but not all experiences are the same. We explore how different school types within the United States, particularly in Southern California, effect the experience of students, what students have access to, and how schools are fighting against the perpetuation of inequality in the United States.

For a perspective on charter schools, we interviewed a college and academic adviser at a charter school in Rebekah’s community. She has been working with kids in charter schools for the past 10 years and she is passionate about uplifting students from marginalized groups and ensuring that they know how to navigate educational institutions and the college application process.

“Charter schools have the same amount of financial resources as public schools, but with a smaller population than a regular public schools. Because of this, they are able to do things differently, like requiring that students are college eligible in order to graduate and have smaller class sizes. Public schools often see charters as the bad guy, but I think school choice is important for the parents”

Horvat article, “From Social Ties to Social Capital: Class Differences in the Relations Between Schools and Parent Networks” examines the role that social capital and parental involvement plays on a child’s learning experience, but social capital along with cultural capital are major influencing factors in their school choice.

“Depending on the school, they serve different purposes in the community. The charter school I worked in when I was in Los Angeles was pretty much a school for children who could not succeed in a ‘normal’ schooling environment. They thrived at this institution because the school was allowed to do things differently”

Charter schools, with smaller class sizes and more flexibility, are able to serve individual students and their diverse needs in a way that public schools may not be able to support. Students have diverse needs, and those needs affect their academics, so through charter schools the needs of the individual student can be met more directly. And even different charter schools can address different needs, therefore making education more accessible to individuals outside of the dominant culture.

“AP classes are extremely White normative and unevenly distributed. While they can be beneficial to students in college, they are not empowering or relevant to disenfranchised communities”

What we generally consider to be academic success in the United States, such as taking several AP classes or honors courses, is an academic ideal that may not benefit a majority if students. Just because AP courses are available in a school does not mean students have equal access to them, or that AP courses will help all students succeed academically. Academic success is about more than AP and honors courses, but allowing students to learn at their own pace, choose their own path, and truly interact with their education.

“Schools should aim to be a part of the community. Every day, students return to their community and if they feel like the school is not a part of that, they won’t value their education. Schools need to work for the people that attend the institution, or else it has failed in properly educating students”

Valley Torah Jewish Girls School Win 4 out of 6 CIJE Awards in Engineering, 2017

For a perspective on private schools, we interviewed an educator from a private religious school, to gather her perspective on what private schools are doing to benefit their students. As a Jewish religious all girls school, the demographic is different than a majority of other schools in the United States, but similar to other religious private schools in the US including Catholic and Christian schools. Mrs. Guttenberg teaches for Valley Torah in Los Angeles, an all girls Jewish school, and advises the teachers at the affiliated all boys school. On the topic of being a gender separated school, our conversation focused on gender bias in the education system.

So Valley Torah and Torah High are separated by gender but are affiliated schools. Do you believe that the female students at Valley Torah are receiving the same education as the male students at Torah High?

“I wish I could say yes, but unfortunately I don’t think that’s the case. There’s the expectation that these girls will get married and won’t really need their education, so school is more about community, social skills, and discipline than I would say Torah High is.”

Would you say the students are treated equally between these schools?

“No. The girls have a strict dress code but Torah High doesn’t. The girls get sent home if they’re not to dress code, but I’ve definitely seen the Torah boys running around the parking lot in gym shorts.”

Do you think these differences in policy effect the students education differently?

“I would say so, yes. It’s not necessarily about what the students value so much as the parents, and the donors for sure, and a lot of tradition. So the female students read and write just as well as the boys I would say, but with math and science there’s definitely a difference. The AP classes offered at each school are different, the boys have more math courses and AP Chemistry and Valley Torah just doesn’t have that. The girls do go on more excursions, but they really do a lot with children and families. So the girls spend just as much time on education, but it’s different than Torah High. For a lot of the girls historically high school is the end of education, and for the boys its preparation for college. So it’s different, and a lot of the donors and administration are stuck in that mindset.”

Do you think this will change any time soon?

I think this is already changing, and will continue to change. When I started teaching, there were no AP classes at the girls school at all. But more of the girls are going on to college, more AP classes are being added. The girls have started an engineering team and are doing impressively well, they have a lot of faculty and parent support, it’s really amazing. It’s still far from perfect, but it’s changing for the better. It’s a religious school so there will always be religious aspects of learning, but college preparation is becoming a larger focus of the curriculum, at Torah High and Valley Torah. Not everyone wants to go to Yeshiva or Seminary, some want to go get a bachelors or a trade certificate and that’s becoming a bigger focus with our teaching.

Do these changes reflect a change in the wants of the parents, of donors, the students? Or outside pressure from regulations?

Definitely pressure from the parents. We’ve had outraged parents attend board meetings on behalf of the Valley Torah girls, demanding more AP classes for the girls, more serious college preparation. And the students are definitely eager for change, a lot of the girls want to go to college and the way things were they didn’t have the competitive edge they needed. Some of the donors are old school, there’s a lot of worry that old values are being eroded away, but it’s a lot of stereotypes, old fashioned I would say.

Is gender bias a problem only in schools like Valley Torah and Torah High, or do you believe this is a wider issue?

I think it happens differently at public schools, but it still happens. My husband teaches engineering classes at a local public school, and he mentions all the time that his classes are almost all boys, with maybe one or two girls. It’s less difference of availability for public school students within the same school, but female students are still being excluded from STEM fields and college preparation classes even in public schools.

Do you have any ideas of how to fix this problem of educational inequality?

Within Valley Torah and Torah High? Give the girls the same resources as their counterparts. The students can decide if they want to take the AP track or not, if they want to pursue college or not, just as the boys can. It is a religious school and I don’t think that takes anything away from the students education, but I don’t think we should let traditional gender roles rule the schools anymore. But overall? Public schools and private schools need to start from the beginning, encouraging students to take the path that they want. Women are just as good at math as men, so if any student wants to pursue math they should have the same encouragement and the same opportunity.

Gender separation in private schools has an impact on the education that students receive, the different access that students have, and the quality of their education and resources. In the case of Valley Torah and Torah High, the all girls school has historically had different priorities for women than the affiliated all boys school, and this has been reflected in the different access and styles of teaching in the schools. over time, this disparity in education is closing, as the Valley Torah girls bring programs in engineering and higher level math into their curriculum and extra curricular activities. But educational inequality for women is prevalent in all types of schools, including public schools. Equal encouragement, equal treatment, and equal access are all necessary to end gender inequality in education.

AVID in San Diego – History

  • “Advancement via Individual Determination”
  • 1980: Founded by Mary Catherine Swanson, an English teacher at Clairemont High School
  • 1992: AVID established as nonprofit
  • 1996: AVID expanded across California regions
  • 2007: AVID expands to elementary schools
  • Present: “AVID is implemented in more than 6,400 schools in 47 states across the U.S., plus schools in Department of Defense Education, Canada, and Australia. AVID impacts nearly 2 million students in grades K–12 and 50 postsecondary institutions” – avid.org/ourhistory

Perspective from Cindy Page – an AVID teacher at Crawford High School

What does AVID actually do?

  • Teaches collaboration skills
  • Helps with homework Ex. provides tutoring
  • Teaches organization skills: planners, binders, etc. Ex. there are frequent binder checks to enforce organization
  • Teachers push students to take more rigorous classes and classes that help build a more attractive college application, such as AP classes or foreign language courses
  • Facilitates access extracurriculars and community service to bolster college applications
  • Provides a support network and overall access to advice in pursuing educational advancement
  • AVID also assist in teacher effectiveness for local communities

Does it work?

  • Cindy Page’s graduating class of 26 students was just awarded $900,000 of scholarships, not included federal financial aid
  • 88% of AVID students apply to a 4-year college and of that 90% are accepted
  • AVID students do complete college at a higher rate than non-AVID students

But, does AVID challenge the reproduction of inequalities in schools?

  • Narrative One: Yes, AVID provides educational and professional knowledge, or capital, to students who first generation, impoverished, from rural communities, or just in general to students who’s parents don’t have this knowledge. Further, the data demonstrate that AVID does help advance students who are not apart of the cultural majority.
  • Narrative Two: AVID was founded by a white woman and its teachers are overwhelmingly white. In fact, there are no POC in AVID leadership. This does paint the appearance of white folks dictating how minoritized communities should be assisted.

AVID Closing Thoughts

AVID does appear to make an impact in “leveling the playing field” if you’re into sports analogies or believe that a level playing field is actually possible in any society. I encourage the reader to go to the AVID website and review their self and third party studies. There seems to be nothing but praise on AVID. And indeed, it’s true that AVID has implemented verifiable change. The teachers are amazing and actively engaged in their students. I’ve visited Cindy Page’s classroom and left feeling stunned by her ability to engage and inspire. However, as Cindy also pointed out, AVID is essentially the dominant culture educated the minoritized cultures on how to better succeed in the dominant model. This could easily slip into assimilation, or it could also celebrate diverse identities and help minoritized students navigate multiculturalism, which I believe is the intent of AVID. That said, I do strongly advocate that AVID incorporate POC and local community members into the leadership and decision making process.

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