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School Choice Success Story in California
posted by: Ruthie | July 15, 2013, 07:52 PM   

During a recent TED talk, California teacher Pearl Arredondo discussed how excellent teachers and school choice saved her from a life of poverty and gang involvement.

Pearl grew up in the impoverished East Los Angeles, California neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Her father was a high-ranking gang member. She was raised by her single mother, a long time Los Angeles School District office secretary, who saw firsthand the challenges facing students in local failing schools. It was this reality that led Pearl's mother to the conclusion that the best way to save her daughter from a life of poverty and crime was to send her to another school. In order to ensure that her daughter received the best education possible, Pearl's mother fought for her to go to a quality public school, bussing her an hour and a half away.

School choice allowed Pearl to escape from the dangerous cycle of poverty and crime in her neighborhood. As a result, she graduated and moved on to Pepperdine University, where she received both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Education and Instructional Leadership. She was the first in her family to graduate from college and began her teaching career at San Fernando Middle School–the very middle school she attended eight years prior.

Soon she realized that her school alone couldn't meet students' needs, and she set out to create the San Fernando School Institute for Applied Media, the only pilot school in the Los Angeles School District operated by an external agency, the Youth Policy Institute. This school has the freedom to hire their own effective teachers, control curriculum to best suit students, and control the budget – spending money where it matters.

"Shifting the entire paradigm hasn't been an easy journey," recounts Pearl. "You'd better believe there was some opposition, mainly out of fear."

The high demands put on school staff were met with strong opposition from status-quo thinkers in Los Angeles. However, these dedicated teachers and administrators have risen to the occasion. While it takes teachers and administrators working far beyond regular hours, and parents making decisions for their kids, state test scores have gone up nearly 80 points.

"Why should our kids have to go far away from where they live," Pearl questions. "They deserve teachers who fight for them and empower them to move beyond their circumstance."

Click here to watch the full TED Talk.

What do you think about Pearl's journey?
Comment below.

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