Seeking to ease concerns that a proposal to require four years of high school math for freshman admissions would make it harder for certain students to attend California State University, senior administrators of the 23-campus system are proposing to exempt some students from the requirement and help schools expand their course offerings.
The proposal, which will be presented to the board for a vote in November and would go into effect in 2026, would require students to take an additional math or quantitative reasoning course, such as computer science or an extra science lab. The proposal has sparked opposition from groups who say many school districts lack the teachers to offer sufficient courses, and that those districts are disproportionately attended by black, Latino and low-income students.
During a meeting Tuesday of CSU’s Board of Trustees Committee on Educational Policy, staff members from the chancellor’s office maintained that no students would be prevented from attending CSU because they can’t access the required courses. Students who attend schools without those courses would be exempt. To address teacher shortages, CSU is investing an additional $10 million in CSU’s Math and Science Teacher initiative, which prepares teachers in those subjects.
But opponents question whether CSU’s investments are sufficient and say they are worried that the exemption policy would force students to navigate a complex process to apply for a waiver.
Opponents of the proposal now include the California Teachers Association, which last week voiced its opposition in a letter to the trustees. The California School Boards Association, a range of education advocacy groups, and the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest school district, are also among the proposal’s opponents.
Under the proposal, students who are unable to meet the requirement because of limited course offerings at their schools would be exempted during the initial implementation of the requirement, according to the chancellor’s office.
“I want to be completely clear. Under no circumstance would this proposal deny access to CSU students because they could not take a quantitative reasoning course through no fault of their own,” James Minor, an assistant vice chancellor at CSU, said at Tuesday’s hearing.
CSU officials have said they will seek a partnership with the California Department of Education to identify schools with limited course offerings but have provided few details about how that partnership would work. Skeptics worry that the burden will ultimately be on students to apply for a waiver from the new math requirement.
Jackie Wong, the school board president of Washington Unified in West Sacramento, told EdSource that the exemption rule would force students to navigate “an extra tier of bureaucracy.”
Kelly Gonez, a member of the Los Angeles Unified school board, told EdSource that the proposal to exempt students does not address her concerns that the requirement would disproportionately impact students with the greatest needs, including low-income and first-generation college students.
“Instead, it creates a two-tiered system that further marginalizes students from high-needs communities, the ones who are least likely to pursue and persist in higher education,” Gonez said. “The CSU’s proposal not only imposes a new requirement for admission, it would then create a new bureaucratic process for our students or school staff to navigate if they lack access to actually meet the requirement. The result would be the same — fewer of our high-needs students would be admitted to our CSUs.”
The exemption waivers will be phased out over time, once all schools in the state can offer the required courses, according to CSU.
Noting that California is already experiencing a shortage of math and science teachers, opponents have said some schools will need significant investments to hire the teachers needed to give students access to those classes.
CSU has so far promised an additional $10 million to bolster its Mathematics and Science Teacher Initiative over the next four years. Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor of Educator Preparation and Public School Programs, estimated Tuesday that the $10 million would allow CSU to double the number of math and science teachers it produces annually, from about 1,000 to 2,000.
“I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t predict whether it’s going to be sufficient, but at this point in time, it is a pretty significant investment to help address the teacher shortages in math and science,” Grenot-Scheyer said in an interview with EdSource.
Wong, the school board president at Washington Unified, called the $10 million investment a “great start” but added that she’s unsure whether it will be enough for a state with about 1,000 school districts.
“From my practical sense, $10 million isn’t a lot of money statewide. … I’m a practical numbers person,” Wong said. “Absent seeing what [the implementation] looks like in practice, it’s hard for me to imagine what that would look like.”