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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Don’t tie diploma to college-prep coursework

Requiring college-prep coursework to earn a diploma is a mistake, writes Russell Rumberger on EdSource. An emeritus University of California at Santa Barbara education professor, he is director of the California Dropout Research Project.

Some competent students may be denied diplomas, he writes. Others will graduate without the skills necessary for college or careers.

Should every student have to pass college-prep courses to earn a high school diploma?

Half of California districts — including many of the largest in the state — now require all students to pass the college-prep sequence, known as the A-G courses, required by state universities, reports the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Teachers are under enormous pressure to pass low-achieving students, so they’ll qualify for a diploma. More than a third of first-year California State University students — all have passed the A-G courses with C’s or higher — are placed in remedial classes, reports the PPIC. That will go down to zero in the fall: CSU is placing all incoming students in credit-bearing, allegedly college-level courses — with extra support to help the unprepared pass. (Will instructors be pressured to pass students along?)

To raise graduation rates, districts have lowered standards, Rumberger writes. Los Angeles Unified made earning a C or better in A-G courses a graduation requirement, realized that huge numbers would fail to earn a diploma and decided earning D’s was good enough. That means they’re not university eligible, so what’s the point?

“Why should all students have to meet the eligibility requirements for admission to a four-year college if they don’t want a job that requires that much schooling?” asks Rumberger.

According to projections by the Public Policy Institute, less than 40 percent of the jobs in California in 2030 will require a four-year college degree. If students can demonstrate readiness for a trade or community college program, shouldn’t they be granted a high school diploma? After all, some of these middle-level jobs pay better than jobs held by four-year college graduates.

Districts “should adopt a broader measure of student success in setting their graduation requirements,” Rumberger concludes. All students could start on the college-prep track in ninth grade, then be allowed to select another option, such as a career-prep pathway.

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