College-prep reqs can backfire

Requiring all students to pass college-prep courses risks raising the drop-out rate, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California report.

San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego have raised their graduation requirements:  Unless they sign an opt-out form, all students must pass all the courses required for admission to state universities, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Without strong supports, weaker students may give on earning a diploma, warns the PPIC report, which analyzed San Diego’s transition to the new requirements.

“San Diego students will need to dramatically change the courses they take,” said report co-author Julian Betts, who is also a UC San Diego professor.  “Clear communication with students, parents, and teachers about the new requirements is critical — and that communication needs to begin in middle school, if not earlier.”

The study recognizes that students may have a harder time graduating with the more rigorous standards, unless schools undertake major interventions to ensure they can succeed.

Requiring college prep may discourage students from taking career tech ed courses, PPIC warned.

In addition, districts “will need to guard against two unwanted side effects: the watering down of a–g course content and possible grade inflation that allows students to graduate even though they are not mastering the content of a–g courses.”

When San Jose Unified required college-prep for all, teachers were under great pressure to give students a D- in chemistry, advanced algebra, etc. so they could earn a diploma.

Florida legislators OKs two-track diploma

Florida will create a two-track high school diploma for college-bound and career-minded students under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, reports the Miami Herald.

If the proposal becomes law, the requirements for earning a standard diploma in Florida will change dramatically. Students still will have to pass an end-of-course exam in algebra and a standardized test in language arts. But they no longer will have to pass end-of-course exams in geometry and biology.

Instead, those exams would count for 30 percent of a student’s final grade in that subject.

A passing score on the biology exam would be necessary only for students wishing to add a new “scholar” designation to their diploma. Those students also would have to pass the algebra II exam, earn two credits in a foreign language and enroll in at least one college-level class, among other more rigorous requirements.

Students also can add a “merit” designation to their diploma by earning industry certification in a field such as automotive technology.

A “scholar” wouldn’t be guaranteed college admission and a student who earns vocational “merit” could pursue a bachelor’s degree, reports the Herald.

Not every student is going to go to college, said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee. However, all graduates “are going to be college ready.”

Why not say that non-scholar graduates will be ready for job training — in the military, at a community college or on the job — but not ready for academic higher education?

Idaho legislator: Require ‘Atlas Shrugged’

Idaho students would have to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and pass a test on it to graduate from high school under a bill introduced by Sen. John Goedde, chairman of the Idaho Senate’s Education Committee.

Goedde said he won’t push the bill, but wants to send a message to the State Board of Education, which repealed a rule requiring two online courses to graduate from high school. “It was a shot over their bow just to let them know that there’s another way to adopt high school graduation requirements,” Goedde said after the meeting.

He hasn’t read the book for 30 years, “but it certainly gives one a sense of personal responsibility,” Goedde said.

In the 1957 novel, productive citizens go on strike against heavy taxation and government regulation. When the innovators and makers disappear, society collapses. Capitalists have better sex too.

Rand’s Anthem would be an interesting choice for teenagers. It’s set in a world in which the idea of “I” has been lost. It’s a lot shorter than Atlas and I don’t think there’s much sex.

I had to memorize the Preamble of the Constitution to get out of junior high. Is there a book that all high school should be required to read?

Oregon may require college credit in high school

Oregon may require all high school students to pass college-level classes, reports Diverse.

A bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill that would require college coursework as a condition of graduating from high school. The move would increase the number of students going to college, make their degrees more affordable and encourage students not considering college to continue in higher education, said Sen. Mark Hass, a Beaverton Democrat who is the bill’s chief sponsor.

Oregon students must pass 24 high school classes to earn a diploma. In its current form, Senate Bill 222 would require six of those classes earn college credit, starting with the class of 2020. It promises funding — how much is unstated — to train high school teachers to teach college-level courses.

It’s nice to know Oregon students are so accomplished that all can be expected to complete high school work in three years and move on to college work.

North Carolina is more realistic: A bill backed by Gov. Pat McCrory would create a “career ready” diploma in addition to a “college ready” diploma. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and is headed for the House. “Career and technical teacher licensing requirements also would be revised to help develop more teachers in those fields,” reports AP. There are paths to a decent job that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, the governor believes.

College prep for all relies on false data

Starting with the class of 2002, San Jose Unified raised its graduation requirements: All students must pass the college-prep courses required for admission to state universities. The rule doubled the percentage of university-eligible graduates — and nearly tripled college readiness rates for Latinos — the district reported. Inspired by San Jose’s success, other districts raised their graduation requirements. But requiring college prep classes didn’t work in San Jose, the Hechinger Report discovered. The numbers were fudged.

 For six years, the district misreported its results, counting seniors who were close to completing the college-prep requirements as having done so. San Jose claimed that the percentage of graduates who got at least a C in all these classes rose to nearly two-thirds from just over a third. The rate for Latino students rose to nearly 50% from 18.5%, and for black students to more than 50% from 27%, the district incorrectly reported.

After the district corrected its errors, the district reported only incremental progress that was comparable to school systems without the requirements. Of that class of 2011, a little more than a third completed the college-prep sequence.

In 2000, before the college-prep rule took effect, 40 percent of San Jose Unified graduates fulfilled state university admission requirements by earning C’s or better in college-prep courses known as the A-G sequence. In 2011, the number was 40.3 percent.  Of blacks and Latinos who entered high school in fall 2007, about 1 in 5 were eligible to apply to a state university four years later.

Students could graduate with D’s in college-prep courses, while state universities require at least a C. Failing students were transferred to alternative schools with lower expectations. Thanks to compassionate teachers and the D-, the dropout rate didn’t rise.

While San Jose Unified was claiming success, I was writing Our School, about a San Jose charter school’s fierce struggle to prepare low-income and working-class Latino kids for college. I wondered how kids who’d scored “below basic” on the state math exam were passing advanced algebra and chemistry.

Los Angeles Unified will require the class of 2016 to pass the A-G courses with a D or better, reports Hechinger. Next year’s ninth-graders must earn a C or better.

L.A. school officials said their program will include the support necessary to help students succeed. Supt. John Deasy has insisted that requiring students to get a C or better in these classes is necessary for a diploma to be meaningful and to ensure that low-income and minority students don’t have to settle for coursework that is “orange drink” rather than “orange juice.”

“This is all about a kid’s civil rights,” Deasy said. “I am confident in our students, that they will rise to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Long Beach Unified also is trying to qualify more students for state universities. Instead of requiring A-G courses, Long Beach sets annual improvement targets for its schools. Only 25 percent of Latino students and 27 percent of black students were eligible for state universities in 2011. That’s not great — but it’s better than San Jose’s real numbers.

Parents block career-tech requirement

I’d love to see more and stronger career-tech courses in high schools, but I’m not surprised that San Diego parents rejected a career-tech requirement. From the Hechinger Report:

San Diego Unified School District  proposed new high school graduation requirements mandating two years of career and technical education courses—or two to four courses. . . .  Parents circulated an online protest petition and school officials spent hours in a meeting to assure hundreds of parents that courses like computerized accounting, child development and website design could be in the best interest of all students.

But afterwards, when parent leaders asked the crowd who favored the requirement, every single parent at the meeting voted against it.

Many San Diego parents said their children needed to take AP courses to compete for selective colleges. They had no time for child development or web design.

After meeting with La Jolla parents, the San Diego Board of Education voted to rescind the requirements.

People think career-tech ed is “great but for someone else’s kids,” said Kenneth Gray, an emeritus professor of education at Penn State. Still, the mandate was a bad idea, he said. “To say everyone has to take it is as ridiculous in my view as saying everyone has to take calculus.”

Few high schools offer a variety of well-designed, well-taught CTE courses that meet the needs and interests of all students, from those striving for elite colleges to those just barely passing. Some students will get turned on by a CTE elective. Others will wish they’d had time in their schedule for jazz band or theater or journalism.

Career-tech advocates are trying to push CTE as college prep plus, not as an alternative to college for all, notes the Hechinger Report.

The quality and availability of the programs vary. At the top end, students in medical courses might spend time at a hospital, learning key vocabulary and technical skills like drawing blood. Students can learn engineering design programs on computers or spend time taking apart electronics to learn how they work. Students in cosmetology programs might study the chemistry behind hair dye.

Why do career-minded students have to do college prep? If you want to learn chemistry, take chemistry. If you want to work in a beauty salon, get a part-time job sweeping up and ask the boss how to move up. Do you need a license? If so, would community college courses help?

Taking vocational college classes in high school boosts graduation rates — and college success — for disadvantaged students and underachievers, reports a new study.  Dual enrollment isn’t just for high achievers any more.

College-prep for all — with easier math

Math teachers at my daughter’s old high school oppose a plan to require all students to pass college-prep classes required for admission to California universities, known as A-G courses. They say some Palo Alto High students — disproportionately black, Hispanic and disabled — can’t pass the school’s demanding Algebra II class, which requires more than the UC/CSU standard.  Water it down to the minimal level and students will end up in remedial math in college, the teachers warn.

The department chair, Radu Toma, wrote the letter (posted on wecandobetterpaloalto.org), which is signed by his colleagues. He taught my daughter Geometry in ninth grade and AP Calculus in 12th grade. Her Algebra II and pre-calc teachers signed too.

The math teachers are snobs who only want to teach advanced classes, argues LaToya Baldwin Clark in the Palo Alto Weekly. Require A-G for graduation, she writes, and create an easier Algebra II class for average students who don’t have parents who can tutor them — or pay for tutoring.

By the department’s own admission, even the regular lane Algebra II class greatly exceeds the UC/CSU. In the view of Toma and his colleagues, “diluting the standards in our regular lane to basic benchmarks which might allow every student to pass Algebra II would end up hurting the district’s reputation.” The department refuses to teach an Algebra II that satisfies UC/CSU requirements that students can actually pass. And where does the Paly math department think those students who fail to complete Algebra II should go, rather than to college? They can “go on to community colleges or jobs for which district prepares them better than most districts.”

The reputation of a high school is enhanced when all students go to four-year colleges.

Last year, 85 percent of all high school graduates in the district met the UC/CSU requirements. But only 5 percent of special-ed students, 15 percent of blacks and 40 percent of Hispanic graduates were eligible for state universities.

Many of the black and Hispanic students have transferred from neighboring East Palo Alto, a low-income and working-class town, under a desegregation agreement. Many of the Palo Alto students are the children of very well-educated parents who work in high-tech or at Stanford. There’s no question that Palo Alto’s two high schools are designed to prepare students for very competitive colleges and universities.

The local community college, Foothill, is one of the best in the state. But graduation rates are low for community college students. Starting at a four-year university — San Jose State is the likely choice — would raise the odds of earning a bachelor’s degree.

But we’re still talking about long odds. Most remedial math students never earn a degree.

If a basic Algebra II is created, it should be aligned with college placement tests, so students know if they’re on track to take college-level or remedial classes. If the high school maintains high standards in its regular-lane Algebra II, then teachers need a strategy to help math-challenged students pass.

There’s another option: Work with Foothill to create a career-prep track. Community colleges offer programs that qualify students for a “middle-skill” job in two years or less. Some require advanced algebra, but others do not. But this would be seen as setting low expectations for other people’s kids. It wouldn’t fly.

 

High school was too easy, graduates say

College is great, say recent high school graduates, but they weren’t prepared for college-level math, science and writing.

College Board’s One Year Out (pdf) survey asked members of the class of 2010 how their high school experience prepared them for work and college. In addition to wishing they’d taken harder classes in high school, 47 percent said they should have worked harder, reports College Bound.  Thirty-seven  percent said high school graduation requirements were too easy.

Ninety percent agreed with the statement: “In today’s world, high school is not enough, and nearly everybody needs to complete some kind of education or training after high school.”

Those who went on to college found the courses were more difficult than expected (54 percent), and 24 percent were required to take noncredit remedial or developmental courses. Of those taking remedial programs, 37 percent attended a two-year college and 16 percent did not make it through the first year of college.

To succeed, 44 percent of graduates said they wished they had taken different classes in high school. Among those, 40 percent wished they had taken more math, 37 percent wished they would have taken more classes that prepared them for a specific job, and 33 percent wished they had taken more science courses. Others thought they would have benefited from more practical career readiness and basic preparation for how to engage in a college environment, including how to manage personal finances, the College Board survey reveals.

Curriculum Matters has more on the study.

All your plan are belong to us

How many different ways can I say ambivalence?  Courtesy of Educationnews.org:

The Oregon House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would make the laying out of a future education or employment plan a requirement towards a high school diploma, The Huffington Post reports. House Bill 2732 requires students to either complete and submit an application to college or internship program, enlist in the military, or attend an apprenticeship orientation workshop before they can receive a diploma.

One the one hand: “Yes!  Kids need guidance and driving everyone to college is silly.”

On the other hand: “School isn’t shouldn’t be about getting a job or going to college.  It should be about developing skills and autonomy.”

But back to the one hand: “Yes but autonomy requires an ability to plan sensibly about the future.  No one is saying that the student has to implement the plan, are they?  Just make it.”

But the other hand replies: “Then why not require all three of every student?  Why risk derailing a kid’s self-image?  Isn’t this just the slightest bit eerie?”

But the one: “It’s no worse than the silly community service requirements that we’ve got these days.”

Then the other: “That’s your argument?  It’s not a flagrant constitutional violation?  You should be able to go to school, learn, and get a diploma based on your demonstrated learning.  What you do with it is your business and your business alone.”

“Paranoid hyper-individualist.”

“Statist commie sympathizer.”

Then my hands start to hurt each other.

Hawaii adopts dual diploma tracks

Hawaiia is raising graduation requirements, starting with the class of 2018, but also creating a dual-track system:  Students will be able to opt for a less demanding diploma, the state board of education has decided. (The whole state is one school district.)

The “college and career ready” diploma will require students to complete two lab sciences, algebra 2 or an equivalent math course and a senior project.

Another track is designed for students who may not be interested in higher-level math or lab science, and so requires fewer math courses but still mandates that students take algebra 1 and biology to graduate.

Hawaii’s public schools are not very good, notes the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.  The state superintendent pledges to start working in elementary school to prepare students for higher graduation standards.