Shouldn't Education Have a Level Playing Field?

Should El Marino be one of the only Culver City schools to have language immersion?

Shouldn't public education be a level playing field?

OK, it's going to be difficult to write this article without sounding like a "complainer." You will just have to take my word for it--complaining for the sake of complaining is just not in my DNA. So I am raising the question here today because I have never been able to come up with a good answer myself, and maybe someone out there can help me out?

Now that we are on the same page with the motivation behind the headline, here's what it's all about: Why is El Marino one of the only Spanish immersion elementary school in Culver City? Isn't the very essence of having taxpayers fund the school system, that the same opportunity be available for ALL children who attend these schools?

If the playing field isn't level, i.e. some children are somehow deemed to be more worthy than others, then who gets to decide and why? Who gets to decide what criteria is used to determine who is selected and who is not? Something just doesn't sit right, or is it just me?

Another thing that just doesn't settle right is the selection process itself. El Marino ends up with more applications than places available. So they have a lottery every year and names are pulled out of a hat. One troubling thing for me is that the so-called "lottery" is NOT carried out in public, so no one really knows how the "lottery" is conducted. Shouldn't this process have the cleansing power of the full light of day so that there can be no doubt as to the veracity of the process?

All taxpayers pay in so all taxpayers are entitled to complete openness, right? Or am I just being old fashioned?

Lastly, Culver City has five elementary schools. Whether we like it or not, there is a de facto two-tier system. By whose authority did we get here? We certainly couldn't have one school that taught--oh, let's say--Judaism or Christianity when the others did not, and that these schools took applications from parents and then decided behind closed doors who was "in" and who was "out."

I am all for raising the standards of education, and El Marino has an exemplary record of which they should be very proud. Somehow for me, even though both of my children are beyond the age where they could attend El Marino (so I have no ulterior motive for penning this article). Their achievements are attained in a way that excludes a large number of students from it. There have to be better ways for our children to learn to speak Spanish without employing some arbitrary, shrouded in secrecy, system for a select few.

This is, and has always been, very troubling to me--I would love to know what your thoughts are.

Mike King is an Associate Partner at Partners Trust Real Estate and Acquisitions. He is passionate about three things: Family, Real Estate, and McVities Chocolate Biscuits (or cookies to the uninitiated). You can connect with Mike on Twitter @mikeking4re and on Facebook.







rsergant August 20, 2010 at 06:01 AM
Mike, oh, Mike.... before you wrote this article, did you do your homework? Did you make a phone call to the Principal of EMLS? Did you speak to the Secretary who handles admissions? Have you heard about the new immersion program at La Ballona Elementary? There are too many misconceptions presented in this article to even BEGIN to respond to them....do your basic research, as the journalist you are, and then we'll talk...
Mike King August 20, 2010 at 06:28 PM
Thank you for your response it is greatly appreciated. I think if you read the article you can see that the essence of the piece is that not all the CCUSD children have access to language immersion. I am aware that El Rincon have begun some language immersion, this doesn't change the basic fact it is the same tax dollars and the product is very different and exclusive to only some children. I am questioning why, if I have some things wrong about the process I am happy to be corrected.
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin October 01, 2010 at 10:21 PM
Mike, I heard about your article, but I do want to mention that La Ballona is in its second year of language immersion. The Culver City Unified School District was very responsive in seeing a strong demand for language immersion, and responded by starting another program in a second school. It is very difficult to start an immersion program. Spreading them out between all the schools might prove difficult. But having immersion offered in two schools is a great start. To the point of El Marino: the school is only so big. It can't hold all the people who might want to go there. That's why there's a sensible lottery, and the addition of the second program at La Ballona.
Mike King October 01, 2010 at 10:30 PM
Thanks for engaging with me on this Jeannine. It's great that other satellite programs are starting up, I really hope the programs do well and can grow. It still doesn't change the fact that the system we have at the moment has around 80% of our students entering Middle School at a very distinct disadvantage. I don't think that's fair or justifiable, at least not with public funds. This should mean equal opportunity for ALL students
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin October 01, 2010 at 11:14 PM
Mike, yes I agree. I wish all the middle school students had language immersion access. But since we can't turn back time, we can only try to move forward in a positive direction. That's why I'm part of an immersion task force which is trying to improve/expand language immersion to all who want it. Even the El Marino students who dedicated the first six years of their schooling to language immersion are not getting actual language immersion in the middle school. Can you believe that? It's true. You also can probably realize that not everyone agrees with us about the value of a language immersion education. This current school board is very forward-thinking, but past school boards and CCUSD staff might have been characterized as hostile to the immersion quandary. That's why we are in a great place now to build the program and offer it to more students in the very near future. That is my hope and why I have been advocating, along with other like-minded people, language immersion for all who want it.
Sara Kocher October 02, 2010 at 04:05 AM
Mike, I agree with you that our tax dollars should be shared equally. And they are...El Marino doesn't get any more funding per pupil than the other elementary schools. It's actually possible that they get less, since El Marino has one principal and set of staff for what's nearly two elementary schools, since the Spanish and Japanese immersion programs are very limited in how much they can share teaching staff and instructional materials. Also, I don't think you're correct that Culver City students at the other four elementary schools are receiving a lesser-quality education. What about the science lab at El Rincon, the terrific art program at Farragut, the Math Olympiads at Linwood Howe? My son's wonderful instructor for the young writers class in the Adult School's children's program this past summer, Ms. Coelho, is a second grade teacher at La Ballona. And these are just the few things I'm aware of from personal experience...I'm sure there are many, many, other great programs going on at all five of our elementary schools. It would be fantastic if every single child in Culver City who wanted to be in a language immersion class could be. Working toward that goal is a worthy aim, so long as we also keep the quality of our math-, art-, and science-focused schools just as high. A level playing field should not mean mandating a one-size-fits-all education. There are so many kinds of high-quality elementary schools...I think Culver City should have five of them.
Mike King October 02, 2010 at 06:05 PM
Sara, thanks for taking part in the discussion, all of what you say is very valid. We can't get away from the fact that only 20% of students entering middle school have a massive advantage over the other 80% for no other reason than they were selected (the method of selection is also questionable, the lottery should be done in the open) to attend the only language immersion school that is available. This is not a nuanced difference between elementary schools. It is a massive disparity in opportunity and, in my view, is not right.
Jesica Davis October 06, 2010 at 07:26 AM
I think what's missing from this conversation is a constructive recommendation on your part regarding what education in Culver City Unified ought to look like. Though you say you are not one inclined to complain for its own sake, a responsible conversation regarding education policy cannot be left at "it's just not right." While I don't know the history of El Marino, I have always assumed that, at one point, the idea was approved to try a language immersion program at one of the schools. It's been a success, obviously, and is a desirable program. I applaud Ms. Stehlin and others like her who are working to expand the scope of the program to include more Culver City families. I had a daughter at La Ballona last year and the new immersion program seemed like a wonderful development for the school. Perhaps your column can deepen your exploration of this topic by supporting the expansion of language education in Culver City and making that a priority issue for the elementary schools. This would be a positive expression of what I sense is your desire to keep ALL Culver City students competitive in an increasingly global job market. Jesica Bornemann Davis
Madeline Ehrlich August 13, 2011 at 03:01 AM
Thank you Jeannine and Sara for making the needed corrections to this article. This is a very good example of how misinformed some of the adults in our community are. The need to educate goes beyond our students. I hope that one of the goals of our District will be to educate the community as well . This misinformation leads to a lot of anger, inappropriate blaming and more damaging misinformation.
JLS August 16, 2011 at 03:34 AM
Would love to see the expansion of language education at all Culver Elementary schools - as long as immersion remains an option and not the de facto standard. I still contend that while some kids thrive in immersion, others do not. Keep our options open, offer secondary language education from an early age, and don't keep shutting down kindergartens at one neighborhood school (effectively crippling that school's long-term survival) for the benefit of another.
Mike King August 16, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Madeline, Thanks for joining the conversation. I am sorry that your interpretation of the post was that it was coming from anger and inappropriate blaming. I can assure neither of these were present when I wrote the post, or now. If you read the post again, I am merely shining light on what I believe to be a very unbalanced system, and asking why. I would like to see the imbalance addressed, and addressed swiftly. Our States own web site has the Hispanic population in the majority in another 10 years. I believe bi lingual students have a massive advantage over those that don't. It just a plain fact that when entering middle school around 80% of our students are at a distinct disadvantage.


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