November 15, 2007

Closing the racial achievement gap one 1980s movie at a time

Remember this week's 4,000-educator conference convened by California state superintendent of schools (and potential 2010 gubernatorial candidate) Jack O'Connell to close the racial achievement gap?

As a number of commenters pointed out earlier this week in "Beyond Parody," O'Connell's conference featured actor James Edward Olmos, whose qualification was that he had played famed teacher Jaime Escalante in the 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver." Unfortunately, the conference wasn't able to get Denzel Washington (currently appearing in "American Gangster"), who had starred in the 1987 TV movie "The George McKenna Story" about a tough principal who fixes up Washington High in LA (which is where the late Tookie Williams had founded the Crips gang in 1971). So, the attendees were stuck with the real George McKenna himself, who is not quite as handsome as Denzel. In fact, the real George McKenna looks less like Denzel Washington than he looks like Will Ferrell playing anchorman Ron Burgundy. (In case you are wondering, it's some sort of New Orleans thing.)

News10 in Sacramento is all over the story:

Educators Confront Achievement Gap; Is "White Privilege" to Blame?
Written by Karen Massie, Reporter
Written by Dana Howard, Anchor/Reporter

There weren't enough chairs to seat everyone when George McKenna, assistant superintendent in the Pasadena School District, facilitated a workshop on Education as a Civil Right for Historically Underachieving Students.

McKenna sprang onto the national scene when he took over Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, turning the gang-infested school into an institution where 80 percent of its graduates went to college.

McKenna said asking students what they think about school is important. "They know who the strongest teachers are." McKenna said. "Students know who is giving them the benefit of the doubt and who's challenging them. We can't enable students to be mediocre and dumb it down and act like that's the best they can do."

He added, "We use data to help improve test scores. We need to use the data to keep the teachers who really want to help the students. The data will also tell us which teachers don't need to be in the classroom."

Whatever it was that McKenna did at Washington Preparatory High School in the 1980s, it doesn't seem to have made much difference these days. Speaking of data, I found this helpful database of the SAT scores for every public school in the 10,000,000 resident Los Angeles County.

In 2004-2005, of Washington's 404 remaining non-dropout seniors, 212 took the SAT and they averaged 369 Verbal and 362 Math, which is, like, not good. Only 8 of the 404 seniors scored 1000 or higher on the SAT (M+V), which is roughly the dividing line between kids likely to actually graduate from college versus kids likely to end up wasting a few years before dropping out of college..

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

...369 Verbal and 362 Math, which is, like, not good.

But not too shabby for a school in the bottom 10% of California schools , especially considering that CA students, er, schools, perform rather poorly compared to the rest of the country.

Anonymous said...

Just imagine how ignorant the 192 seniors who did not take the SAT are. After all, the 212 students who took the test probably represented the "top" half of the class, and had at least some ambition. Truly appalling. These are people whose ability to live in an advanced technological society is wholly dependent on the whites and Asians who make this society possible.

Anonymous said...

When I see statistics like these, and then go and visit my daughter's (public) San Fernando Valley school filled with sweet, intelligent kids-- mostly Euro white, Asian, and Iranian, but also a smattering of black and Hispanic with parents who were motivated enough to either get their children bussed in from South LA or move into a local apartment complex-- I'm boggled by how it's possible to have such different educational experiences while remaining in the LAUSD. There actually are a lot of bright black and latino kids in greater LA, with parents moving heaven and earth to get their children out of these horrible inner city schools and out to the burbs where they'll be surrounded by kids who actually value achievment.

TabooTruth said...

Define "a lot." Anecdotal or statistical evidence?

Anonymous said...

anon said: These are people whose ability to live in an advanced technological society is wholly dependent on the whites and Asians who make this society possible.

I'm thinking you meant - "this is A people..."?

Aren't you, and perhaps every White and Asian (and Black), people whose ability to live in an advanced technological society is wholly dependent on the whites and Asians (and Blacks) who make this society possible.

Steve, aren't you interested in 'whatever it was' that worked? Some 'citizenist'!

Anonymous said...

The real George McKenna reminds me of the dean of students from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.


Anonymous said...

The link to the alleged database of SAT scores isn't working for me.

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer: As a number of commenters pointed out earlier this week in "Beyond Parody," O'Connell's conference featured actor James Edward Olmos, whose qualification was that he had played famed teacher Jaime Escalante in the 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver."

There's a wealth of information about the real Jaime Escalante in his wikipedia article.

If you wanted to perform a really fascinating study, then you would go back and track the careers of Escalante's students - a large portion of them were educated in the 1980's, so, at this point, they should be in their late thirties, or early forties, and it should be fairly apparent at this point what they chose to do with themselves & with their professional careers.

As documented in the movie, the knock against Escalante was that he was merely teaching the students how to parrot the answers - that, in essence, they were little more than his calculus-test-taking Pavlovian dogs.

But if you could somehow recover their IQ test scores as very young children [1st, 2nd, 3rd grades, etc], and then their AP Calculus test scores after the coaching from Escalante, and then their college Grade Point Averages, and then their success after college [professional school, choice of career, achieved success within that career, salary history, etc], then the results might be really fascinating.

Long term, did any of them consistently out-perform their IQ test scores as young children?

Did any of them [successfully] pursue careers in technical fields - engineering [electrical, chemical, or mechanical], "systems" programming, actuarial sciences, financial analysis, etc?

Did any of them [successfully] pursue careers in pseudo-technical fields - medicine, biological sciences, web programming, technical writing, etc?

Or did they all, by and large, simply revert to the mean once they no longer had Escalante as their drill sergeant, breathing down their necks?

It would be one whale of an expensive study - I bet that, over the years, Escalante prepped on the order of 500 [maybe even 1000] students for the AP Calculus exams, and tracking them all down, and tracking down all their transcripts [to include both early childhood IQ tests, and college GPA's, and GRE/LSAT/MSAT/bar exam/medical board certification scores, adult salary histories, etc etc etc] would be a massive undertaking - you'd probably need a grant on the order of $1 Million to pull it off successfully - but I have a sneaking suspicion that the results [whichever way they broke] would be absolutely fascinating.

Control groups would be tough: I can think of two control groups I'd like to see - the first control group would need to be contemporaries of theirs, in the same [or "similar"] schools, with similar IQ scores as young children, but who didn't receive any drilling from Escalante, and the second control group would need to be randomly selected children, from around the nation, who received similar AP Calculus test scores.

Maybe somebody could contact Charles Murray and see if he's interested in purusing something like this - it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't be, if only he could get his hands on sufficient funds to pull it off.

Or maybe he knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who might be able to pull it off.

PS: The demographics of it could be really fascinating as well: How do they compare [relative to the control groups] in things like income source - does their income originate with government employment, private sector employment, or from ownership of a business in the private sector? What is their voter registration - Democrat, Republican, Independent, or other? What sorts of campaign contributions have they made? What is their religious affiliation - Catholic, Protestant, or other? How many children have they had [total fertility rates]? At what age did they have their children?

Steve Sailer said...


This wouldn't be an impossible study to pull off since Escalante taught at Garfield HS, which has a twin rival in Roosevelt HS to provide the control group. They play football against each other each year in the "East L.A. Classic" and it's homecoming for both teams so 15,000+ people show up, including multi-generational families. So, you could hand out fliers at the football games asking to get in contact with Escalante's students, and recruiting Roosevelt controls from the same era.

Anonymous said...

Boy, I tell you what, if someone could pull off a study like this, then I would be very, very interested in the results.

As a "math" guy, I have to wonder if even the briefest exposure with mathematics [which they received from Escalante] rubbed off on these students, or whether they quickly forgot about it, and moved on to all the other temptations which life presents us.

PS: "purusing" = pursuing.