Burdened by crowding, Van Nuys High School adopted a year-round schedule last year
to help alleviate the problem.
But in designing a multi-track calendar to accommodate the school's 2,500 students,
critics say the school has created another problem: a system that promotes academic
Of the three tracks, they say the one known as "B-track" encourages low performance
because it has the most erratic schedule, the most inexperienced teachers and the fewest
magnet and Advanced Placement courses available. Some complain there is even a
stigma associated with being a B-track student.
"They say B-track is the dumb track," said Ramon Tovar, an English teacher at Van Nuys
High. "We're not those special magnet kids. So the most apathetic students are on B-
Los Angeles Unified School District officials acknowledge problems with the multi-track
system and say the cash-strapped district is aggressively seeking alternative solutions to
ease crowding. Of the district's 49 high schools, 19 are on a three-track system.
School officials said they are often forced to stack high-achieving and low-achieving
courses onto separate calendars at crowded schools because they don't have the resources
to spread them evenly throughout a multi-track system, also known as Concept 6.
"Nobody is happy with the Concept 6 calendar, from the superintendent to the board, and
every effort is being made to replace it," said Merle Price, the district's deputy
superintendent of instructional services. He stressed, however, that the district's intent is
not to discriminate against any student.
But critics argue that B-track is having a damaging effect on students enrolled in it, a
majority of whom struggle with the English language. They fear these students are being
herded toward academic mediocrity and low expectations.
"It's frightening," said Hector Villagra, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Educational Fund, which, two years ago, joined with the American Civil Liberties Union
in suing the state over substandard schools and year-round calendars. "They're putting
kids on this track that would suffer most from these obstacles," Villagra said.
Critics are most concerned about the following:
* Despite recent gains, Los Angeles Unified students on B-track still had the worst record
on standardized reading and math tests, according to a district study of 2001 results.
* B-track has the lowest number of credentialed and experienced teachers of any
calendar, though a new policy has been implemented to correct the disparity.
* After returning from vacation, B-track students have four days until their Advanced
Placement exams and 18 days before they must take the standardized California
Achievement Test. Tracks A and C have about 2 1/2 months in class to prepare for their
* Of the 593 Advanced Placement courses offered at the district's 19 year-round high
schools, 232 are on A-track, 216 are on C-track and 145 are on B-track.
* Of the 44 magnet programs at three-track schools, 31 are on A-track and 11 are on C-
track. Only two are on B-track.
Plagued by severe crowding, the 736,000-student district is one of four school districts in
the state that use Concept 6 calendars. The ideal solution is more teachers and more
schools, officials said.
But financial concerns stemming from the state's ballooning budget deficit have made
hiring more experienced teachers difficult, they said.
In November, Los Angeles voters approved a $3.35-billion school construction bond to
pay for 80 new schools. Yet it will be at least three years before the first schools open
and, even then, none of the existing year-round schools are expected to drop their multi-
track schedules, officials said.
So how does a student end up on a specific track?
Several factors are considered, including where students live, whether they are enrolled in
a magnet program and whether they have an older brother or sister in the district. Los
Angeles Unified rules mandate that students follow the same track as their older siblings.
Students on A-track have the most traditional schedule, giving them breaks in the
summer, at Christmas and in the spring. Those on C-track are in class during the summer,
then take long breaks at the end of the year and in the spring.
By comparison, B-track students end one school term on June 27, then start a new one on
July 1. After two months, classes break for two months. Students again break for vacation
in March and April before returning on May 1, just in time for exams.
"Students take a few weeks to get into a routine," said Evelyn Contreras, Van Nuys
High's student body president for B-track. "Then all of a sudden we go on break. You
come back and you've forgotten everything you've learned. The teachers don't want to re-
teach the material, but you have to review. It's an uncomfortable environment."
Contreras said she ended up on B-track because she got bad grades in the two years
before the school switched to a year-round schedule. The senior said it's unlikely she or
her classmates will be able to improve their academic standing if they remain on the
"The perception of B-track students is, they don't want to go to school," she said. "We're
not known for academic achievement.... It's never going to improve."
At Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles, senior Evelyn Garcia said
she failed a recent English class because she was discouraged by the on-and-off
scheduling of B-track. She said students on other tracks look down on her and her
"We're the left-out track," the 17-year-old said. "They criticize us and say we're different.
They have more school spirit."
Norm Morrow, principal at Jefferson High in South-Central Los Angeles, said B-track's
problems do not mean tracks A and C are without flaws.
"In a Concept 6 school, everyone's going to have challenges," Morrow said. "They're all
getting 163 days of school, as opposed to the traditional 180."
District studies show that students at multi-track schools, which include three-track and
four-track schedules, tend to perform worse on standardized tests than students at single-
track schools. And the multi-track system has resulted in social and class conflicts.
Harrison Foster, a senior on A-track in Van Nuys High's performing arts magnet
program, said his school has changed drastically since it switched to a year-round
calendar in 2001.
"It's divided the school socially," he said. "The general consensus about B-track is,
they're ghetto, gangsters, thugs and bad people. It's not true. I know B-track people who
are academically motivated."
One example is Laura Torres. The senior at Roosevelt High in East Los Angeles often
goes to school during her vacation to catch up on review material and to help her prepare
for college by taking Advanced Placement Spanish and calculus.
Last May, when Scholastic Assessment Test results came in, she was the only student on
B-track to score above 1,000 points.
"The other tracks are given the opportunities," the 17-year old said. "We have to look for
Ross Mitchell, an educational researcher at Gallaudet Research Institute in Washington,
D.C., says this is why many poor immigrant children end up on B-track.
"The year-round calendar [challenges] people who are not typically connected to a social
warning system," he said. "So the least attractive vacation schedule will be open to poor
Some principals at crowded schools said it makes sense to leave Advanced Placement
classes on tracks that have more high-performing magnet students, because that's where
such classes are most in demand.
"It's very difficult to have three equal systems," said Mary Kaufman, principal of Los
Angeles High School. "We try very hard to make them as equal as possible. It's just
Experts caution that separating students according to academic ability can have a
demoralizing effect on those who struggle in the classroom.
"Kids aren't stupid," said Anne Wheelock, a Boston College researcher who has studied
the issue. "They pick up quickly that there's a difference in their program. Over time they
believe they are somehow not worthy of something better."
"It's really hard for these kids to develop a solid academic identity," she added. "Less is
expected of them. They then expect less of themselves and less of their school."