Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

City Life: If a school fell on the Westside, would the school board notice?

If I write a column that mentions Costa Mesa’s City Council or the local employee union, I’m guaranteed an online response of at least eight fired-up readers.

Most of the comments are emotional — and less than factual — but that is expected when both sides recycle old data.

But if I write about a local subject that may be even more important than the battle at City Hall, I get one, perhaps two, responses, and not just this time, but every time (“City Life: School district needs leadership, accountability,” Oct. 19).

The subject is our schools, specifically three Westside Costa Mesa schools that have been floundering for years with no accountability for the failure to register any improvement in their Academic Performance Index scores.


API rankings range from 1 to 10.

A 1 means the school’s API score is in the lowest 10% of all schools in the state, according to the district’s website. A 10 means the school’s API score is in the highest 10% in the state.

For the past two years of index reporting, Pomona, Whittier and Wilson elementary schools have all scored a 2. These schools have been failing for years. In 2006, Pomona had an index score of 1, Wilson 2 and Whittier 4.

These scores are shameful, yet not only is no one at the school board taking responsibility, but the public also isn’t speaking out.


So then why should anyone care? After all, aren’t these kids the progeny of illegal immigrants who shouldn’t even be here?

The short answer is no.

Though there are plenty of critics who want to make that case, data support the opposite conclusion. I could find no approximate numbers of Costa Mesa’s illegal immigrant population, but using recent county figures, we can come close.

The 2010 U.S. Census estimated an Orange County population of just over 3 million people. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the county’s 2011 illegal immigrant population is 289,000, or about 9.5%.

So, give or take a half percentage point, we can conclude that about 90% of the kids in these schools are the sons and daughters of people who were born here or who entered the country legally.

Another myth to debunk is that the schools are overcrowded, which poses too great a burden to teachers. Sorry, try again.

According to recent data posted at, the average class sizes for Pomona, Wilson and Whittier are 20, 22 and 22, respectively.

So why should we care? Here are conclusions from the study “Public Schools and Economic Development” by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, based in Ohio:


1) There is a clear consensus among researchers that education enhances productivity.

2) Research indicates that quality public schools can help make states and localities more economically competitive.

3) Public schools indisputably influence residential property values.

With all that at stake, why don’t we care?

At best, it could be that the parents of these students are on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale and they do not have the time to invest in demanding better results from the school board. These parents may also place less value on education than other, more prosperous parents. There are often significant language barriers, too.

At worst, it is that the parents of these students, 63% of whom are Latino, according to a 2010 Los Angeles Times story, do not vote as much as other parents and do not have the wherewithal to make the campaign contributions to help the reelection of school board members.

As such, they may receive less attention. I prefer not to believe that end of the spectrum.

Even if all this is true — that these parents don’t have the time or desire to be involved, or that they have been cast aside by an indifferent school board — do you doubt for a moment that an API rank of 2 would last more than an hour in Newport Beach?


I cannot determine why there is no prominent Latino voice demanding more from both parents and the Newport-Mesa Unified school board.

It is the responsibility of the school board to support all the kids in the district. Right now, though, we seem to be leaving a few of them behind.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to