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The 'Long Beach Way'

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L.A. Times Editorial

The 'Long Beach Way'

Its school district is again recognized as among the nation's best. The LAUSD should take note.

Once again, Long Beach Unified School District has been recognized as one of America's best. Although New York City won the Broad Prize for Urban Education on Tuesday -- a distinction awarded to the district for demonstrating progress in closing the achievement gap between black and Latino students and whites -- Long Beach, which won the prize in 2003, made history by returning this year as a top-five finalist.

It did so by improving on its past performance in a way that should be an inspiration for urban school districts everywhere -- especially a big one just to its north. So what is the "Long Beach Way" that has educators from Japan to Romania visiting the port city?

* Education trumps politics. Mayor, school board and superintendent stay focused on instruction, and there is extensive parent, teacher and community participation. Thus, actual work gets accomplished. Last week, the Long Beach school board meeting lasted 45 minutes. In L.A., it can take that long just for the board to get through its inspirational "moment."

* Standards for dress, behavior and achievement are in place and upheld. Those reforms, instituted 15 years ago, have freed teachers and administrators to concentrate on the classroom.

* Race is explicitly a part of the district's ongoing instructional conversation. Supt. Chris Steinhauser, one of California's heroic educational leaders, demands that every school close its achievement gap -- including those in which the test scores of white students lag those of black ones.

* New teachers get help. They aren't just thrown into the classroom to sink or swim -- they go through two years of training once hired. And they are trained to teach English learners.

* Finally, and perhaps most important, Long Beach has truly ended social promotion. Roughly 1,000 students a year, most of them black or Latino, are held back rather than allowed to progress to the next grade. That's tough medicine that L.A. has been unwilling to take.

The results are enviable. As a result of opening rigorous courses to all -- not just honors students -- African American enrollment in Advanced Placement classes is up 105%, the percentage of Latinos in AP classes is beginning to mirror the racial composition of the district and, every year, an additional 1,000 students pass AP tests.

Long Beach still has a way to go. At the present rate, the gap will close in 2022. But the district shows no signs of resting on its laurels. Its progress gives all who care about educating all children confidence that it can be done.