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.

Career ed bill vetoed

California students will not be able to to take career classes instead of art or foreign language to earn a diploma. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. An advocate of vocational education, Schwarzenegger said he was worried the bill would impose new costs on school districts and could require funding of more career academies.

He also vetoed a bill creating “green tech” career academies in high schools using a small surcharge on electricity. The funding source would set a bad precedent, the governor said.

The governor signed a bill requiring kindergartners to turn five by Sept. 1 and creating “transitional” classes for children affected by the switch. The cut-off date has been Dec. 2.

‘Food for Singles’ or French?

California students must take an arts class or a foreign language to graduate from high school, but a bill on the governor’s desk would let students choose a career course instead. The sponsor, Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Gardena, hopes the option will engage students who might otherwise drop out.

Common Core, which strongly opposes the idea, looks at Granada High School, where vocational options include:

* Hospitality to “learn grooming and proper work ethic.”

* Fashion Apparel to “learn sewing machine basics.”

* Landscape Design to “grow flowers, ornamental plants and vegetables.”

* Food for Singles to learn culinary “short cuts, new techniques, budgeting their food dollars, and multiple uses of appliances.”

“Education is about more than workforce preparation,” Common Core argues. “It’s about building creativity, wonder, cultural literacy and citizenship, for starters.”

California’s college-prep curriculum includes arts and a foreign language. However, the students who’d prefer “Hospitality” are not planning to apply to a state university.

The problem I see is that the bill includes no funding to develop high-quality  classes that would prepare students for real careers, most of which will require some additional training at a community college or in an apprenticeship program. Potential drop-outs might be motivated by Cooking for Chefs. It’s hard to believe anyone sees Food for Singles as a reason to stay in school.

College and career readiness is the new norm

According to Achieve’s new Closing the Expectations Gap report, aligning high school graduation requirements with college and career readiness is the new norm.  State leaders began the drive five years ago. Now, of course, President Obama wants all states to adopt new college- and career-ready standards in reading and math.

Getting real-er

More states are linking academic standards and graduation requirements to what students will need to succeed in college and careers, reports Achieve in Closing the Expectations Gap. In addition, more states are adopting assessments rigorous enough to measure whether students are preparing for college and career demands. “P-20” data systems that track students from preschool through college also are spreading.