Parents from Familias Unidas rally outside LAUSD headquarters in 2010 to promote college readiness.

Graduating more college-ready students ranks as one of most important education initiatives in California, leading Los Angeles Unified School District to implement a sweeping plan requiring all students to complete a college-prep curriculum before they earn a diploma.

In 2005 the nation’s second-largest district joined a growing number in the state that began aligning their graduation requirements with the A-G sequence, the minimum standards needed for admission into the University of California and California State University systems and other four-year colleges and universities.

But like many of the other districts, Los Angeles Unified struggled to implement the new requirement. Officials said they miscalculated the large number of students who would have trouble with the college-prep coursework. The loss in state funding caused by the recession hampered other districts’ efforts to add intervention programs, making them reluctant to punish students who could not meet the tougher targets.

Los Angeles Unified eventually adjusted its ambitious plan after officials realized that far too many students were at risk of not graduating. More than 65,000 students were funneled into summer school this year because they were behind on credits.

Other districts that require the A-G sequence have also eased their standards. They include allowing Ds in college-prep courses to count toward graduation credits, even as UC and CSU accept only Cs or higher. Some districts allow students to opt out of the A-G curriculum altogether if they decide college might not be their ultimate path, creating a two-tiered system.

These loopholes essentially render districts’ college-prep curriculum meaningless if many students still can’t qualify for four-year colleges after graduation, some critics said. Also, asking more of students academically and then failing to provide them with the needed resources sets up many for failure, they said.

But supporters of the A-G graduation requirements said the best way to ensure more students from diverse backgrounds attend college is to increase what’s asked of them. And the progress made so far has led to more college-ready students. Statewide, the number of UC/CSU-eligible graduates has grown by 24 percent over the past decade, with districts adopting the A-G curriculum seeing some of the largest increases, according to state Department of Education figures.

‘Leveling the playing field’ with A-G

CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO SEE A LARGER IMAGE: California's minimum graduation requirements and how they compare with a-g coursework.

(Click on the picture to see a larger image) California’s minimum graduation requirements and how they compare with A-G coursework.

California’s minimum graduation requirements have largely remained unchanged since 2003 even as business leaders, politicians and activists have called for high schools to produce more college-ready graduates.

In response, many districts across the state increased the requirements for diplomas. Some districts adopted the A-G sequence – a series of 15 college-prep courses in English, math, science, foreign language and other core electives – created by the UC system and used by CSU to give students and schools a clear understanding of the coursework needed for college admission.

In 1998, San Jose Unified became the first district to align graduation requirements with A-G coursework, starting with its graduating class of 2002. District leaders said that too few Latinos where graduating eligible to apply for four-year schools. In 1998, about 20 percent of Latino students graduated eligible for UC and CSU admission, compared to the districtwide rate of 38 percent. The policy change allowed the district to “level the playing field” while increasing the overall number of college-ready students, officials said.

The district saw modest gains by 2002. (The district initially reported that for 2002 the Latino UC/CSU-eligible rate increased to 44 percent and the districtwide rate grew to 65 percent. But officials later said they mistakenly included in those figures students who earned Ds in A-G coursework.) The district’s UC/CSU-eligible rates continued to climb gradually in subsequent years.

After San Jose Unified made A-G coursework the default graduation requirement, at least a dozen other districts followed. They include some of California’s largest: Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Francisco Unified and Oakland Unified. Others include East Side Union, Palo Alto Unified, Sonoma Valley Unified, Carlsbad Unified, Sweetwater Union, Morgan Hill Unified and Vallejo City Unified.

“Moving to A-G was the right policy. But we never really had the right resources to truly implement it,” said Steve Zimmer, Los Angeles Unified School Board president.

The Santa Ana Unified School Board in 2001 approved the plan requiring all students to complete A-G coursework starting with the graduating class of 2005. In 2001, just 16 percent of Santa Ana’s students graduated eligible to attend UC and CSU, ranking among the lowest rates of districts statewide.

Then-Superintendent Al Mijares touted the policy as a measure for equality for all students.

“We have increased the graduation requirements for the high school diploma… to make a motivational and concrete statement that is aimed at equipping our students with the skills needed to compete at the university level,” he said. “Their entrance to the (UC and CSU) is determined not by their socioeconomic or ethnic status but by the caliber of classes taken, grade-point average and SAT scores.”

In 2005, when the Los Angeles Unified School Board voted in favor of the mandatory college-prep curriculum beginning with the class of 2016, board President José Huizar said, according to the Los Angeles Times, “If we don’t give students access to A-G requirements, we are limiting their choices. I come across many, many students who in their senior year tell me ‘If only I had known, if I only I had taken the A-G requirements, I would be at a university.’”

Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell in his 2004 “State of Education” address proposed requiring every student in California’s public schools to complete A-G coursework in order to receive a diploma.

“This does not assume that all students are bound for college. Instead, it acknowledges that today, all of our students need the skills and knowledge contained in the curriculum that was once reserved only for the college-bound,” O’Connell said in a 2004 Sacramento Bee opinion piece.

O’Connell helped state Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Sun Valley, sponsor a bill that year to make the initiative state law. But it failed to gain traction in the Legislature.

Challenges of college-prep curriculum

Many of the districts with the A-G required coursework pledged to hire more teachers and counselors and fund more intervention programs for struggling students to ensure a wider range of students met the higher standards. But California’s recession, which prompted state lawmakers to cut billions from public education over the past decade, halted many of these reform efforts.

ag districts

In 2011, San Diego Unified delayed by two years the start of its A-G graduation requirement after officials realized the district could not afford the extra counselors and additional student support services.

Current Los Angeles Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer said his district was also unprepared to help students reach the tougher goals.

“Moving to A-G was the right policy. But we never really had the right resources to truly implement it,” Zimmer said.

The school board unanimously voted earlier this summer to change its graduation rules to allow Ds to count in A-G courses after the district determined that about half of students in the Class of 2017 were at risk of not graduating. The incoming juniors were supposed to be the first in the district and the state required to earn Cs or higher in all A-G courses, making every student with a diploma eligible for UC and CSU admission.

Zimmer said the district underestimated the amount of tutoring, after-school programs, teacher training and other infrastructure needed to help the high volume of students who were falling behind. He said state budget cuts also hampered the district’s effort to add some of these resources.

“It was troubling to see the large number of students not on the path for a diploma,” Zimmer said. “But we understood the support was not there. Our intention was not to punish students for what we failed to provide.”

Santa Ana Unified in 2009 lowered the number of credits needed to graduate from 240 to 220, then dropped Algebra II and science lab courses from its graduation requirements, ending the A-G coursework alignment. The number of UC/CSU-eligible graduates in the district had been steadily increasing every year since 2001, going from 16 percent that year to 34 percent by 2009, but the overall graduation rate remained relatively flat and continued to rank as the lowest of any district in Orange County. Officials said at the time that the move away from the A-G requirement was aimed at giving more flexibility for a growing variety of student needs, which included a higher demand for career technical training.

Edward Winchester, Santa Ana’s current director of secondary education, said Santa Ana’s graduation requirements today remain rigorous.

“They are somewhat, but not completely aligned with UC/CSU course requirements to allow for broad and maximum opportunities for all students, including those who may have college and career aspirations that don’t necessarily include UC or CSU,” Winchester said.

Jasmine Solis, who graduated from Valley High in Santa Ana this spring, will study culinary arts at Santa Ana College beginning this fall. Solis said that for her career path, completing A-G coursework was not necessary, and would have likely been a burden.

“I can’t imagine having to take all that extra math and science,” she said. “I think a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t really work for today’s students.”

San Jose Unified, Eastside Union and Oakland Unified have each included explicit clauses that allow students in 10th grade, with a parental waiver, to opt out of the A-G curriculum and choose a career technical education program.

In San Jose Unified, a 2013 report by the Los Angeles Times found that many Latino students who were struggling to pass A-G courses sidestepped the rigorous standards by transferring to the district’s alternative high schools, which were exempt from the A-G requirement. San Jose’s alternative schools enrolled nearly 50 percent more Latinos compared to traditional high schools, the Times reported.

“I don’t know that I would have ended up in college, or at least at a four-year school right away if I wasn’t put on the A-G path… It was definitely hard. But I think it helped bring the best out of me,” said Anthony Gonzales, a San Francisco Unified graduate.

David T. Conley, director of the Center for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon and a nationally recognized expert on college and career preparation, said districts need to find a balance between supporting those students aiming for college and those who are still figuring it out.

“In some sense moving to A-G makes sense,” he said. “But A-G only works for those kids who know they’re going to college. It’s a little unfair to only offer a purely academic course and not a vocational course.”

Conley also said districts aren’t really making students college ready when they accept Ds in A-G coursework.

“Getting a D in Spanish hardly implies that you can do anything with the language. Getting a D in algebra won’t prepare you for more challenging math,” he said.

Another criticism of having a rigid A-G curriculum is that not every college-bound graduate plans to attend a UC or CSU campus.

The Public Policy Institute of California issued a report in 2013, College Readiness as a Graduation Requirement, to measure the progress of San Diego Unified’s implementation of the A-G curriculum, which will be required starting with the graduating class of 2016.

The report found nearly 12 percent of San Diego’s high school graduates who do not meet A-G requirements still enroll in four-year private schools or in public universities outside California, which have less demanding admission standards.

“The more stringent graduation requirement might prevent some students from attending university because they would not graduate from high school,” according to the report.

Making progress with A-G

 Many educators worried that districts with a mandatory A-G curriculum would see spikes in dropout rates or lower overall graduation rates because students who struggled might just give up.

But many have actually seen steady improvements in their graduation rates and have maintained or decreased dropout rates.

Vallejo Unified has seen its graduation rate climb from 54 percent in 2011, the first year graduates were required to complete A-G coursework, to 72 percent in 2014.

San Francisco Unified, where the class of 2014 was the first required to complete A-G coursework, saw its graduation rate increase that year to 83 percent, compared to 81 percent in 2013. The dropout rate for Latino and black students increased by about 1 percentage point for each group. At the same time, the district saw a 25 percent increase in the number of Latino students graduating UC/CSU-eligible.

“We had clearly put into place support for a lot of our students who needed it,” said Bill Sanderson, San Francisco’s assistant superintendent for high schools.

The district added a slew of counselors and intervention programs. It also created multiple opportunities for students to make up credits, including online courses and Saturday school. The district funded these additional services with the help of the city of San Francisco’s Public Education Enrichment Fund, a voter-approved tax initiative that raises money annually for education and youth programs in the city.

“In San Francisco, I believe we really take access and equity of students very seriously. We want students to be successful above high school,” Sanderson said.

Anthony Gonzales graduated in 2014 from Lowell High School in San Francisco having completed all A-G coursework.

“The curriculum forced me to begin thinking about college as a freshman,” said Gonzales, who’s starting his sophomore year this fall at Sacramento State University.

“I don’t know that I would have ended up in college, or at least at a four-year school right away if I wasn’t put on the A-G path… It was definitely hard. But I think it helped bring the best out of me.”

Zimmer, the LAUSD school board president, said his district remains committed to the A-G requirement despite initial setbacks. Zimmer said he hopes the district will eventually reinstate the C or higher grade requirement for the coursework.

The Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s new system for funding school districts, will eventually allow LAUSD to divert additional funds for programs for at-risk students to help them become college-ready, he said.

“We know that every student is not going to go to college,” Zimmer said. “But it’s our responsibility to ensure those who want to go have that option.”


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  1. CarolineSF 1 year ago1 year ago

    This quote from former LAUSD school board President José Huizar sums up the confusion so perfectly: “If we don’t give students access to A-G requirements, we are limiting their choices. I come across many, many students who in their senior year tell me ‘If only I had known, if I only I had taken the A-G requirements, I would be at a university.’” So many people -- including, I believe, many sign-carrying protesters -- have confused "giving … Read More

    This quote from former LAUSD school board President José Huizar sums up the confusion so perfectly:
    “If we don’t give students access to A-G requirements, we are limiting their choices. I come across many, many students who in their senior year tell me ‘If only I had known, if I only I had taken the A-G requirements, I would be at a university.’”

    So many people — including, I believe, many sign-carrying protesters — have confused “giving access to” the A-G requirements with MANDATING that all students pass the A-G requirements, which means eliminating other options.

  2. SD Parent 1 year ago1 year ago

    For the record, the last presentation from San Diego Unified on the progress of the A-G graduation requirements (earlier this year) was that more than 40% of the students of the class of 2016 were NOT on track to graduate with these higher graduation requirements. This proves that the "if you raise the bar, they will succeed" model is insufficient to create success for students. The district's response to this crisis is that, … Read More

    For the record, the last presentation from San Diego Unified on the progress of the A-G graduation requirements (earlier this year) was that more than 40% of the students of the class of 2016 were NOT on track to graduate with these higher graduation requirements. This proves that the “if you raise the bar, they will succeed” model is insufficient to create success for students.

    The district’s response to this crisis is that, for 2015-16, they have added more counselors to the high schools that have the highest percentages of students who are not on track to graduate. While more oversight is likely part of the solution, the real solution is increases in intervention services, including tutoring, credit recovery, and summer school to make up for lost/failed classes. These, however, were not put into the LCAP budget.

    I also agree with some of your other commentators that forcing A-G as a graduation requirement is doing a disservice to students who plan to be in careers that don’t require the understanding of Algebra II concepts, Chemistry, or French/German/Italian, etc. There are some great employment opportunities that not only don’t require a college degree but also are not subject to “off-shoring” (unlike some of those STEM degrees everyone keeps lauding), such as plumbing, industrial machine repair, skincare specialist, construction… But San Diego Unified doesn’t have any technical education programs in these areas.

    Bottom line, if we want students to succeed, we need to treat each as an individual because the “one size fits all approach” is never a good option.

  3. Jim Mordecai 1 year ago1 year ago

    O'Leary points out that the reporter quoting a Lowell High School graduate with a Hispanic name is totally misleading as S.F. Lowell High is a magnetic high school screening its enrollment for those with demonstrated ability to handle A-G college prep courses. But, the reporter does a good job of identifying unintended consequence of tying graduation and A-G course requires means that some students will be blocked from attending college. And, the reporter … Read More

    O’Leary points out that the reporter quoting a Lowell High School graduate with a Hispanic name is totally misleading as S.F. Lowell High is a magnetic high school screening its enrollment for those with demonstrated ability to handle A-G college prep courses.

    But, the reporter does a good job of identifying unintended consequence of tying graduation and A-G course requires means that some students will be blocked from attending college. And, the reporter shows how there are ways around the A-G requirement that are being employed by districts that have passed A-G course requirement for graduation. Perhaps unintended consequence of the A-G graduation requirement is that those that work around the requirement with alternative schools and Ds will graduate with the feeling of being less than and carry an invisible scarlet G having not achieved the college ready A-G standard.

    School boards passing a standard is easy work, but financing support for students to meet an increased standard is not so easy. And, it is not clear that the cut in education funding was cause of students in large numbers not meeting the A-G requirement; or that given the challenge of so many children in poverty, and the segregation by economic classes ever increasing, that past funding level, or increased funding level in he past, would have put much a dent in children from poverty as a group achieving college readiness.

    Urban school boards are often dealt with a lemon. They are faced with racial and economically segregated schools and encouraged to go to Federal government asking to have the Feds provide funding that will transform their lemon into lemonade that demonstrates poverty doesn’t matter. Compensatory Fed funding nor raising standards has adequately dealt with childhood poverty’s impact on differentiated education outcomes such as college readiness of racial and economic classes.

  4. Frank Biehl 1 year ago1 year ago

    The East Side Union High School District, located in San Jose, not to be confused with the Eastside Union School District of Lancaster, did not make the completion of the A-G course sequence a graduation requirement. Our Board opted to make the A-G courses the default curriculum for Freshman and Sophmore students. Our purpose was to open the gate to students who had not previously considered a four-year college. The results for the first four-year … Read More

    The East Side Union High School District, located in San Jose, not to be confused with the Eastside Union School District of Lancaster, did not make the completion of the A-G course sequence a graduation requirement. Our Board opted to make the A-G courses the default curriculum for Freshman and Sophmore students. Our purpose was to open the gate to students who had not previously considered a four-year college. The results for the first four-year cohort experiencing this policy have been encouraging with both increased graduation and A-G completion rates for all ethnic groups. Specifically over four years the Hispanic graduation rate has increased 8.4% to 74% with the A-G completion rate increasing 8.6% to 24.7%.This is significant steady progress, though we have a lot more work to do.

    The first step is creating a learning culture that believes that all students can achieve. The second step is removing the institutional barriers that prevent all students from having the opportunity to achieve. It’s not simply raising a bar and expecting students to jump higher. Supports need to be put in place, such as summer bridge classes, so that all students are prepared for the increased challenge. To use a football metaphor, this is a ground game that requires steady institutional reform, teacher professional development and the cultivation of a cultural mindset that believes all students can achieve.

  5. Fred Jones 1 year ago1 year ago

    The push for mandatory A-G is insane! The LA Times series exposed San Jose Unified's abysmal failures as the first major district to go down this unwise path (and placed into context LAUSD's struggles, with nearly half of the first class under this mandate heading toward failure/dropout -- did you read that? HALF!). Anyone who wants to understand what happens to kids ill-prepared for college-prep coursework should read that series (and the separate, dual-track campuses it … Read More

    The push for mandatory A-G is insane!

    The LA Times series exposed San Jose Unified’s abysmal failures as the first major district to go down this unwise path (and placed into context LAUSD’s struggles, with nearly half of the first class under this mandate heading toward failure/dropout — did you read that? HALF!).

    Anyone who wants to understand what happens to kids ill-prepared for college-prep coursework should read that series (and the separate, dual-track campuses it generated, one set of campuses for the college-bound and the alternative campuses mostly populated by kids of color).

    Demanding more from our kids sounds good in theory, but every kid is different, with different levels of primary grades preparation. Instead of defaulting to what university professors determine as necessary for college admissions, high school curricula should be rich, broad and relevant to every kid. Giving out a bunch of “D” grades will only turn-off way too many kids who don’t deserve that kind of stigma.

  6. Bill Honig 1 year ago1 year ago

    David Conley's comment in the article is crucial to this debate. By all means districts should try to increase and maximize the number of students who pass A-G requirements and qualify for four-year colleges. But districts should also attend to the needs of students who might have severe difficulty passing Alg 2 but who could pass rigorous alternative courses such as statistics and quantitative reason as part of career-tech pathways. Whether Intermediate Algebra (made more … Read More

    David Conley’s comment in the article is crucial to this debate. By all means districts should try to increase and maximize the number of students who pass A-G requirements and qualify for four-year colleges. But districts should also attend to the needs of students who might have severe difficulty passing Alg 2 but who could pass rigorous alternative courses such as statistics and quantitative reason as part of career-tech pathways. Whether Intermediate Algebra (made more demanding by Common Core standards) is the appropriate course for those preparing to be nurse practitioners or trained in precision manufacturing has been challenged in many states recently. For these tech/prep students, rigorous substitutes embedded in career tech application courses seems to be a better alternative—a direction many states have pursued. For example, Texas just recently changed its requirements http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/State-nixes-Algebra-2-for-most-students-offers-5194326.php

    Currently, about 40% of students nationally reach the levels needed for succeeding in a credit bearing 4-year college course such as exemplified by the A-G requirements. We should definitely be trying to expand that number and the district efforts outlined in the article are valuable for the important goal of maximizing the number of students qualifying for UC and CSU. But requiring the A-G courses to graduate for all students does a disservice to those students who will flounder with some A-G courses but could prosper by well-thought through and rigorous alternatives such as the career-tech pathways which San Jose allows parents to choose.

    Just recently the University of California BOARS committee, which approves which courses count for college admission and is followed by our state university and community college systems, loosened its requirements and is open to approving some alternative courses to intermediate algebra. http://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/committees/boars/BOARSStatementonMathforAllStudentsJuly2013.pdf and the community colleges are considering changes along these lines. http://www.asccc.org/content/alternatives-traditional-intermediate-algebra

    But that still leaves a large number of students who could profit by rigorous tech-prep pathways who tend to be neglected in a system primarily aimed at the four-year college bound. California has lagged behind some other states such as Illinois which have shown leadership in developing these pathways but is now devoting resources and attention to this problem.

    Robert Schwartz from Harvard has been one of the major national proponents of improving the pathways for the non-four-year college bound. http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/4740480/Pathways_to_Prosperity_Feb2011-1.pdf?sequence=1; and a recent paper co-authored with Nancy Hoffman from Jobs for the Future http://www.insideronline.org/summary.cfm?id=24809 . Also the Fordham foundation has been promoting alternative pathways. See http://edexcellence.net/publications/education-for-upward-mobility for a conference devoted to the issue. Additionally, David Conley and Linda Darling-Hammond have been champions of this approach. The following material summarizes their work. http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/pa/psaawebcastarchive14.asp#dec2014handouts . Also see http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/Portals/0/reportsTB/REPORT_CTEPathwaysInitiative_082613_FINAL.pdf for a California perspective and http://www.careertech.org/state-CTE for the national perspective. Also see the Fall 2014 issue of American Educator devoted to this issue. http://www.aft.org/ae/fall2014

    Some extremely effective groups have been formed to support alternatives for the college bound and programs to focus on a rigorous preparation for the tech/prep bound http://www.iinkedlearning.org and http://www.connectedcalifornia.org. Also see the high-tech high charter organization devoted to school/career integration and the heavy use of project-based learning. http://www.hightechhigh.org and the many career academies which have been providing successful career preparation in important fields such as health, business, and manufacturing during the past two decades.

    During the past few years and slated for the next few years Governor Brown and the legislature with the full support of the State Superintendent, Tom Torlakson, have provided over a billion dollars for collaborative tech/prep grants aimed at two-year community college pathways to career or four-year colleges or apprenticeships to encourage development in this area.

    Although some educators and civil rights advocates are skittish about admitting that the goal of all students becoming prepared for four year institutions is unattainable, by only concentrating on that pathway we are harming many youngsters who will falter under a full four-year college prep sequence whereas they could succeed in a rigorous alternative route. This issue is very similar to the previous attempt in California to require all students to take Algebra in the eighth grade assuming all students could and should pass it then. The movement did increase the number who took and passed the course which was good but caused major difficulties harming their school careers for large numbers of students for which 8th grade algebra was not appropriate.

    These alternative pathways in high school are a far cry from the old vocational education, which often became a dumping ground for low performance students and encouraged tracking for minority and low-income students. A policy goal should be to maximize the number of students who qualify, attend, and graduate from four year colleges, but we should also attend to the needs of those students who could profit from alternative rigorous tech/prep pathways.

    Replies

    • Fred Jones 1 year ago1 year ago

      Bravo, Bill, for speaking truth to the tidal wave of college-for-all mania!

  7. Jessica Sawko 1 year ago1 year ago

    Thank you for your article.
    Do you have a source for information on graduation requirements by district?

  8. O'Leary 1 year ago1 year ago

    Lowell HS is a high performing magnet school. Admission is contingent on submission of an application and based primarily on evaluation of test scores and prior academic record. With a wide-ranging and rigorous curriculum, Lowell is noted for its academic excellence and prominent alumni. The school has been named a California Distinguished School seven times and a National Blue Ribbon School four times. Lowell is currently ranked 50th by U.S. News & World Report in … Read More

    Lowell HS is a high performing magnet school. Admission is contingent on submission of an application and based primarily on evaluation of test scores and prior academic record.
    With a wide-ranging and rigorous curriculum, Lowell is noted for its academic excellence and prominent alumni. The school has been named a California Distinguished School seven times and a National Blue Ribbon School four times. Lowell is currently ranked 50th by U.S. News & World Report in its “Best High Schools in America” for 2015, making it the 2nd highest ranking school in the nation with over 2000 students. Lowell was also ranked 49th by Newsweeks America’s Best High Schools 2012 list and 66th by Newsweeks 2013 list.

    Lowell has a graduation rate of nearly 100%, and it is the largest feeder school to the University of California system, particularly to the Berkeley and Davis campuses. The focus of the curriculum has always been college preparation.

    Anthony Gonzales obviously exhibited distinguishable academic ability far before entering Lowell.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      I recall attending a forum a few years ago put on by the former Pro Tem of the CA Senate on the "A--G" requirements for all concept. A number of representatives of the UC system understood that if you make "A--G" a one size fits all HS graduation requirement it was going to change the very nature of "A--G" itself. (Not that this was necessarily a bad thing if, indeed, it was going to … Read More

      I recall attending a forum a few years ago put on by the former Pro Tem of the CA Senate on the “A–G” requirements for all concept. A number of representatives of the UC system understood that if you make “A–G” a one size fits all HS graduation requirement it was going to change the very nature of “A–G” itself. (Not that this was necessarily a bad thing if, indeed, it was going to be universally applied.) It would be interesting to know what changes, if any, some of these school districts who have adopted the policy made to course instruction. Not just the adding of support personnel, though that’s very important, but actual changes to classroom instruction.

      The other most outspoken group at the Pro Tem’s convocation were the leaders of major labor organizations and community college skills instructors who were seeing dramatic declines in the number of students who were coming out of high school with the basic skills to become machinists and auto technicians, etc. Still high paying and in demand occupations, for those so inclined, and difficult to off-shore.

      Underlying the discussion was the fact that the US now has about the highest percentage of college graduates in its history and few convincing arguments have been made about why it needs more. Yet another argument about why districts should be cautious about adopting A–G as a one size fits all graduation requirement.

      On the other side of the discussion were many who talked a lot about the symbolism of A–G for all, and increasing rigor all around and, most of all, about “raising bars.” Now the whole raising bars metaphor came out of competitive horse exhibitions. Raising the question is that what we think of our kids? Horses jumping over things?

      The whole issue brings back memories of the “Little Train that Could.” This was a classic children’s book about an anthropomorphized train engine that pulled massive loads over the mountains via saying “I think I can, I think I can” over and over to itself. I enjoyed the book as a child.

      In real life, putting aside childish things, this contrasts to my recollections of a small inn in Montana where my wife and I stayed while on one of our cross-country motorcycle trips some years ago. The inn was kind of dedicated to train things. You could actually rent a caboose to sleep in. Anyway, the inn is located next door to a major train switching area just before a significant grade going up and over the Rockies. The real train folks did not rely on the “I think I can” strategy. Instead they took the power of train engines into consideration, the weight of the freight being hauled, and the steepness of the grade and then added engines in the switching area if deemed necessary.

      It is good to know that some districts added counselors and teacher supports where needed, budgets allowing, and did not rely on either the “I think I can” strategy or the “soft bigotry of low expectations” mythology to facilitate student success. The “budgets allowing” are the key words here. As the article implies budgets became, and in large part remain, a significant obstacle to providing needed student supports in CA.

  9. navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

    Good to see a piece that presents the complexities of the issue.
    Also good to see the recognition that expectations, as important as they are, cannot do things all by themselves.

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