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It has been with great interest that I've kept watch in the letters section of our newspaper, anticipating that someone involved in the field of education and far more knowledgeable than I would respond to the editorial concerning California's dismal school scores.

It's a topic that comes up often but I'm yet to read an insightful response. The letters mostly focus on the need for teacher pay increases, as if this somehow magically transforms the system's tenured teachers into machines cranking out students devoted to learning.

I'm for higher pay, but that kind of pixie dust can only be found at Disneyland.

The editorial laments the fact that in spite of spending over $11,000 per student California's results remain dismal. In fact, we rank very low nationwide. The editorial asked if anyone had answers to this problem.

Not all children learn at the same level and pace, or even have the same aptitude for learning. The home environment has an even more serious impact on most students than the classroom. Students with college-educated parents are far more likely to succeed academically.

Why should we be shocked when California is saturated with children from developing nations? We are faced with the education of thousands who come from cultures that have not put sufficient priority on education. And, "In California, only 64 percent of students have parents fluent in English, the smallest share of any state in the country,” according to a study by 24/7 Wall Street. It seems we've been ignoring the realities of why many students in this state are educationally disadvantaged in the first place.

A piece published recently in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a commentary concerning charter schools in New York City, and specifically their success with lower-income and disadvantaged students.

The article focuses on Success Academy, about 50 schools serving over 1,700 students, many of whom come from poor, minority families. Almost all of these students are high performers. To quote the article: "In a city where less than 40 percent of black and Hispanic children test at proficiency for reading or math, 90 percent of Success Academy's students of color passed the most recent state reading test. Virtually all of them did so in math.”

One can only ask, what do these folks know and do that we don’t?

Admittedly, they have the luxury of being somewhat selective when it comes to their student population.

What it requires is total immersion by parents. Consequently, many families end up ruling themselves out once they learn the requirements of a high degree of involvement on their part.

Parents whose children get admitted must attend a series of mandatory meetings along with additional training sessions. School leaders aggressively preach to parents about their no-nonsense culture. They are expected to fully commit to the school's program and policies, which include strict behavior codes, supervision of homework and nightly reading sessions with their children. Uniforms are part of the regimen.

Underfunded Catholic schools have used similar tactics and methods for decades, so none of this is really new. And while the author admits "these schools aren't for everyone,” they provide a real window of opportunity for families serious about their children’s education.

We may be unable to convince Sacramento of the value of such a conservative learning environment, but we could certainly try it on a local level.

My recommendation is that Superintendent McDonald consider setting aside one elementary school patterned after Success Academy. He's not afraid of innovative ideas and has already shown evidence by designating certain local schools as academies that highlight specific interests.

While some may say it takes a village to raise a child, I would argue it actually takes a family willing to invest the time and effort to be actively involved. That's what many affluent families give to their children without even thinking.

In essence, the program is an unapologetic indoctrination of both student and family, changing their culture of remote or no involvement. In so doing, the new, higher standards of learning happen to both student and family. New York City's charter schools prove the point.

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Connie Barlow is a resident of Lompoc.

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