Today, Tokofsky and Downtown Magnets High School junior Jordan Senteno navigate the obstacles to high-quality schooling. Thursday they debated readin', writin' and relevance; Wednesday they focused on social promotion; Tuesday the topic was class size; and Monday they chewed on teacher motivation.

Three strikes, we're out

I want to thank to you, Mr. Tokofsky, for taking the time to engage one of UCLA IDEA's youth research teams.

One of the biggest obstacles to better schools are the standardized tests — especially the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) — that the district has to issue because of, among other reasons, the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act. Schools should have more say over how to measure what students are learning, not have standardized measurements forced on them. Students are getting strikes against them for the mistakes that the government is making.

In our study of student disengagement in Crenshaw High School's community, we found the issue of school control was a recurring theme. The district should share control over the school with the parents, the students and the community around Crenshaw.

Two committees should be formed with equal power. One committee should be district personnel. The other committee should include local parents, students, teachers and community members. The two committees can make recommendations about school issues and then everyone should get a vote.

We also found the problems at Crenshaw exist in schools across the district — uncaring teachers, Eurocentric textbooks, outdated curricula and irrelevant tests. We are always getting the lower-end teaching, the lower-end classrooms and the lower-end learning. This affects our CAHSEE scores and marginalizes our culture as well. It is an academic injustice. Strike one.

Many Black students and many Latino students like me have already been pipelined by the system for failure. Yet, when given an opportunity like IDEA's summer seminar, we were able to produce graduate-level research, write 40-page reports, conduct self-analysis, design professional-quality Power Points with 30-minute oral public presentations and create 10-minute documentaries. Our research team studied in order to make a positive change in our lives and communities. Unlike school standardized testing, this experience was challenging, creative and personal. Standardized testing is long and boring; the test treats us as if we're stupid. It measures what we learn in school, but we learn nothing that is important to us. Strike two.

The No Child Left Behind standardized test treats students of color as inferior, not good enough. The test marginalizes non-English speaking cultures. It makes students feel as if their culture isn't good enough because they must change or hide their culture to learn English so they can pass these tests. Students who come into this world learning English as a second language have their intelligence silenced.

The Los Angeles Unified School District takes state-approved textbooks, curricula, teachers and tests, and puts them into a school such as Crenshaw, where fewer than 1% of the students are white, or Garfield, where 37% are English-language learners. Is it a wonder that so many students are failing? Then, they expect the students to be engaged in learning from the European point of view while their culture is kicked to the curb. The school district still wonders why a majority of students drop out and fail? Instead of changing this problem, they point the finger at the students. Strike three.

The union needs to protect teachers when they want to change something the government forced upon them, if that will make the school better.

Equal control at Crenshaw High is needed to address these and many other issues. Without it, these problems will still occur and we will remain oppressed.

The district knows what the problem is because the CAHSEE test is at an eighth-grade mathematics and English level. They know that this is a challenge for students in LAUSD schools because they know what they are putting into the schools. What goes into a Los Angeles high school is only preparing students for an eighth-grade education. That is academic injustice again. The government, from the federal government to the Los Angeles Unified School District, should be put in jail for life. They are setting us up for failure. The school system is a pipeline to failure. They do not want to see people of color succeed.

Students, parents and the community can't wait for schools to make the change for us. We have to raise the awareness of what happens around our communities. We will always be oppressed by an oppressive system unless we put our problems aside and become one.

Three strikes — we're out. That's why they are building more jails than schools, because we are being pushed out of schools and pushed into jails.

Jordan Senteno is entering his junior year at Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles.

Focus on the goal