LA requires college prep, but a D will do

Eight years ago, under pressure to qualify more Latino and black students for college, Los Angeles Unified’s school board voted to make the college-prep courses required by state universities a graduation requirement.  That policy goes into effect for ninth graders this fall. Fearing massive dropouts, district officials propose to let students graduate with 25 percent fewer credits, reports the Los Angeles Times. Students could pass with a D, even though the state universities require a C or better in what’s known as A-G classes for admission.

Currently, a student must earn 230 credits to graduate. Under the proposal, that requirement would be reduced to 170 credits, the minimum set by the California Department of Education. Among the requirements to be dropped are: health/life skills, technology and electives that cover a broad range of subjects, including calculus and journalism.

. . . Students who pass all their classes typically would earn a minimum 180 credits by the end of their junior year.

District officials hope to require students to earn at least a C in college-prep courses starting with the class of 2017.

Some argue that students benefit from taking college-prep courses, even if they scrape by with a D.

“These courses are the markers of a more rigorous curriculum,” said USC education professor Guilbert Hentschke. Since most students don’t attend a four-year university, a college-prep curriculum also “should have a giant effect on success in a two-year community college,” Hentschke said.

With fewer credits required for graduation, students will be able to retake classes they’ve failed — advanced algebra is a killer — during the school day, officials say.

In 2011, nearly half of graduating seniors failed to complete the A-G classes. Many students had dropped out by then. Fifteen percent of those who started high school four years earlier were eligible for state universities.

Requiring all students to pass the A-G requirements was “magical thinking,” not leadership, editorializes the Times.

D students will not succeed in community college. They’ll end up in the Bermuda Triangle of higher education — remedial math, writing and reading — from which few emerge with a degree or even with the ability to pass a single college-level class. Sadly, most C students don’t qualify for college-level classes at community colleges or state universities. If teachers lower expectations — inevitable when they’re teaching lots of poorly prepared students — the B students are likely to end up in remedial classes too.

About Joanne


  1. Why have Ds at all, then?

    And why not offer students career/vocational/education options in K-12 school for those who need other options?

    Higher expectations don’t magically lift all students. The attrition rate at “it’s a miracle!” charter schools confirms that.

    • Indeed.

      Why have grades at all? After all, the kids have fulfilled their function by providing a rationale for paying the professionals so why put temptation before those who expect the public education system to, you know, educate?

      Well, there are the colleges and they have some stake in discriminating between the kids who are illiterate and those who aren’t.

      Pretty tough to maintain your reputation as a gateway to a better life if you can’t demonstrate that you’re a first-class institution and that requires periodic refreshement of the public’s view of you and that requires results. Results which come via a first-class faculty which needs a continuous stream of sharp, young minds that’ll do the tedious but demanding tasks necessary to keep a first-class institution at the top of the public’s rankings.

      Colleges need some way to discriminate between the hotshots, the could-bes and the no-chances if they’re to stay or climb the rankings so the colleges, despite decades of hectoring, still want to know which kids will be of use to them and which ones won’t.

      Of course if you don’t have to give a dam whether the schools are good or bad, the luxury afforded the professionals in school districts, then grades are just a bother.

  2. Hell, in my district, we haven’t had any General education classes for at least a decade. We have special education, sheltered ELL and college prep. There are some classes called honors, and some called AP (but only one for each subject, so if there is AP Spanish, there is no honors Spanish).

    • One of my biggest beefs with the public k-12 system is the insistence on the one-size-fits-all model. In the reality-based world, it doesn’t fit lots of kids at all well and it never will, because kids are very different. I’d like to see a return of high-quality voc ed and general ed options.

      I just looked at the website for my older kids HS in suburban DC; it still has college prep and honors and AP classes and the AP classes still have honors prerequisites. No AP chem without doing well in honors chem, no AP Euro without honors world, no AP Spanish (Lit or Lang) without honors 4. That used to be the norm; APs were for kids who had already completed the toughest HS classes and were therefore ready for college-level work.

      Then Jay Mathews discovered that kids who took AP classes did better than those who didn’t (quelle shock!) and mounted his crusade to send everyone, however unprepared &/or uninterested, to APs – because that was the miracle intervention. It certainly couldn’t have been because the AP kids were the most academically able and motivated and were therefore inherently different from those not taking APs, could it?

      • I’m totally with Momof4 on this.

        Jay Mathews, like most of the press, utterly fails to grasp the fact that correlation doesn’t equal causation.

        I don’t buy the argument that we can’t revive career/vocational/technical ed because it won’t work. It works in every other developed nation — are we THAT much more incompetent?

        Joanne Jacobs, you seem to have taken the view that students should have to get Cs in the full set of A-G requirements to graduate. So you endorse just eliminating Ds?

        • I think high schools shouldn’t require students to take the college-prep sequence. Some are not capable of doing the work or not motivated to do it. Instead, students should be offered a true college-prep track (with C as the lowest passing grade) and a career-tech track that will prepare them for community college vocational classes, apprenticeship or entry-level jobs.

          In addition, students need early and accurate information about how high school performance will affect their future choices. Some would work harder and achieve at higher levels if they knew it matters. Others could set lower and more realistic goals.

          Downtown College Prep in San Jose did eliminate the D grade because the school’s sole mission is college prep. If students don’t earn a C, they retake the class. Many students have to retake algebra — as many as four times, including summer school. It’s no miracle.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Germany has a two-tiered college track.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Joanne, I think you’re leaving a gap between a true college prep track and the career track. Or, possibly you idea of “true college prep” is somewhat less than the honors/AP four year college standard?

            We need a two tiered college prep track AND a vocational/internship/job training track.

  3. CarolineSF,

    The problem with offering students a career/vocational track is the same as it is in the college track (grades of ‘D’ (which in my day meant ‘below average’) won’t make it).

    Many career/vocational programs have requirements which will cause the ‘D’ average student to simply drop-out after finding out (the hard way) that they’re not academically prepared to succeed in such a program. Also, I don’t know which career/vocational programs will work in a high school these days, since most of the types of careers (HVAC/Sonography/Lab Tech/Rediology/Automotive Tech) requires access to equipment that public schools cannot afford, and the knowledge base is much harder to master than high school content.

    Sounds like LAUSD is just lowering the bar, so that more students can pass (too bad real life doesn’t work like that).

    • Good voc ed is not for the unprepared and/or unmotivated. However, it would be nice to see if better curriculum choices, more effective and efficient instruction and insistence on appropriate behavior in k-8 could get more kids to the literacy, numeracy and general knowledge level that could handle either voc ed or CC-university prep. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is either stupidity or insanity.

      Unfortunately, those at the bottom of the ability, preparation and/or motivation curve don’t have many options beyond low-skill, entry-level work. Requiring them to sit in HS classes they can’t understand and don’t like only creates problems for the kids who are willing and able to do the work. At some point, the umbilical cord needs to be cut.