All public high school students in Los Angeles Unified would have to take the college-prep sequence required by California’s public universities, under a proposal before the school board. Teachers and counselors at Hollywood High told the LA Times that raising standards will push more students to drop out.
“In L.A. Unified, we can’t teach these kids to multiply,” said math instructor Geoff Buck, who has been teaching for 19 years. By expecting them to meet more difficult standards “we’re forcing them to drop out. We’re actually doing them harm.”
Students would have to take four years of English, three years of math, two years of history, lab science and foreign language, and a year of visual and performing arts and advanced electives.
San Jose Unified requires all students (except for a few who get waivers) to take the college-prep courses, but students don’t need to earn C’s, which are the minimum for college eligibility. Many squeak through with D’s given by sympathetic teachers. The drop-out rate hasn’t gone up, and more graduates are eligible for college. Passing algebra, geometry and advanced algebra/trig, is the biggest hurdle.
Amritas thinks schools should respect the diversity of students who aren’t interested in college, and recommends Jon Ray’s Down with Education. Also Scott Sommers on the “cargo cult” theory of degrees and Rishon on career education.
Jerry Brown, former governor and now mayor of Oakland, thinks college for all is unrealistic given the poor preparation of many high school students.
The question is whether making the college track the only track will force LA Unified to beef up middle-school teaching, so students have a fighting chance to qualify for college or for jobs.
. . . at schools such as Hollywood High, teachers and counselors say the district’s focus needs to be shifted more toward middle schools, where even failing students are promoted to the next grade level.
“A lot of students just never receive these basic skills in middle school,” said Hollywood High counselor Elizabeth Payne. “Kids come to me and say ‘I don’t understand anything he’s telling me to do.’ This is understanding simple things like percentages and ratios.”
Buck’s algebra class includes a 20-year-old sophomore.
The district is also short of teachers qualified to teach the college-prep sequence. Currently, only 20 percent of graduates complete what’s known as the A-G courses; 40 percent of courses offered don’t meet the requirements. Some students who want to go to college can’t get into the A-G classes they need.
These days, most high schools offer a college-prep track for motivated students and a general track for drifters. Few offer a vocational track. It’s not that slackers could skip the academics and succeed in vocational classes. Many who are drifting now could be motivated to learn English and math, and maybe a little science, if they thought it was essential to qualify for a decent job. And it is.