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What ‘Odds’ are they beating? Ice Cube straight outta Woodland Hills

Craig Clough | September 3, 2015

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school report buzzAs the second largest school district in the country, one would think the simple law of averages would see LA Unified with plenty of schools in Newsweek’s recent lists of the America’s Top High Schools and Beating the Odds — Top High Schools for Low-Income Students. But the district didn’t fare particularly well on either list.

Coming in at No. 498 and just cracking the top 500 on the “Top” list is Granada Hills Charter High, the sole LA Unified representative. For the “Beating the Odds” list, Granada ranked at #135, along with traditional LA Unified schools Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy (#146) and the Sonia Sotomayor School Of History And Dramatic Arts (#282).

Newsweek first created the “Beating the Odds” list in 2014 in “an effort to address the effect of socioeconomic disadvantage on education.”

While that is laudable, the methodology of the list is somewhat questionable and also explains why more schools from LA Unified — which has over 80 percent of the student body living at or below the poverty level — may not have made the “Beating the Odds” list. In a curious choice, the “Odds” list is based on how well a school’s low-income students score on standardized tests but does not take into account how many low-income students it has.

For example, Piedmont High in Piedmont, CA ranked “#141 on the list even though only .4 percent of its student body are living at or below the poverty level. Inexplicably, four schools are listed as having zero percent of students below the poverty level, which really calls into question what the point of the list is and exactly what odds it is some of these schools are beating.

See below for an interactive map of the Top 100 schools on each list.

Straight Outta Woodland Hills

The film “Straight Outta Compton,” which chronicles the history of the groundbreaking rap group N.W.A., has been dominating the box office for the last month.

One of the memorable early scenes shows future superstar actor and gangster rapper Ice Cube as a teenager, climbing aboard a school bus in the mid-’80s and looking out the window at a parking full of rich white kids in their fancy sports cars at LA Unified’s Taft High School in Woodland Hills. The bus, which is full of black kids, pulls out, and over the course of a few minutes the scenery drastically changes from pristine Woodland Hills to the graffiti-splattered rough streets of south central Los Angeles.

The movie doesn’t delve any further into this intriguing reveal that Cube went to a nearly all-white high school dozens of miles from his home turf as part of a bussing program, and it leaves its viewers needing Google to find out more. A little searching reveals how important this experience was to him and to his world view.

“Think about how you felt at that age,” Cube told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. “I was mad at everything. When I went to the schools in the Valley, going through those neighborhoods, seeing how different they were from mine, that angered me. The injustice of it, that’s what always got me–the injustice.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Cortines…

Since taking over as superintendent last October, Ramon Cortines has shown no hesitation at reorganizing the district how he sees fit. Recently he unceremoniously reassigned three top administrators back to the role of principal while also canceling the Intensive Support and Innovation Center and reorganizing LA Unified’s Educational Service Centers into geographically based offices.

Nevertheless, all the shuffling of the deck has apparently ruffled a lot of feathers among administrators, so much so that the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles has issued a lengthy tongue lashing of Cortines and his senior staff in its newsletter for what it says is harsh and insensitive treatment of some of its members.

The piece opens with a multiple praises of Cortines, including that he has demonstrated empathy and actively listens when concerns are brought to him. Then comes the transition word.


  • In more than one case, AALA members were unceremoniously sent to the proverbial “curb” without regard for the employee’s emotional and physical well-being. AALA understands it is the District’s prerogative to reassign or release administrators serving in untenured positions. However, the perception is that the District was extremely callous and insensitive in this latest reorganization at every level and in most, if not every, department of the organization.
  • We have seen a trend over the last several years for each new superintendent to make his mark by giving birth to an organization model different from the last. In the birthing process, AALA members have been left exhausted and disenchanted because the District has not valued their contributions and skill set. These same members have expressed a culture of fear and intimidation that is veiled, ever-present and stifling at best.

Ouch. There is more, much more, along with the suggestion that the district’s senior staff to do “The Big Three” as suggested by David Lee in an article reprinted in The Employment Times. All in all it is a pretty harsh glimpse into the difficult task the next superintendent will have in keeping everyone happy, as even with high praise can come the sharpest of criticism.

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