Fewer California Students Pass University Requirements



(repost from Daily News)

Fewer than 4 in 10 California high school students are completing the requirements to be eligible for the state’s public universities, fueling worries of a shortage of college-educated workers when the value of a bachelor’s degree has never been higher.To meet entrance requirements, high school students must complete 15 classes with a grade of C or better, including foreign language, lab science, intermediate algebra, and visual or performing arts.

At the current rate, educators and policy experts say, far too few students are finishing high school with the minimum coursework needed even to apply to a University of California or California State University campus. In 1994, 32 percent of public school graduates met the course and grade prerequisites, known as “A-G requirements” because they cover seven subject areas. For the Class of 2012, it was 38 percent.

“We need young adults to be successful in the future economy of our state, and to be successful, an increasing number of them will need to go to and graduate from college. And the A-G course completion share, while it’s going up, is not sufficiently high to meet that economic need,” said Public Policy Institute of California Senior Fellow Hans Johnson, who has estimated the state will have 1 million fewer college graduates than it needs in 2025, if current trends continue.

The sobering numbers do not tell the whole story, according to John Rogers, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access. Once students who drop out or do not finish high school in four years are removed from the equation, the proportion of public high school graduates who met the UC and CSU entrance criteria in 2012 drops to 30 percent statewide, 20 percent for Latinos and 18 percent for African-Americans, Rogers said.

“They speak to a huge gap between the expectations that parents and students have, which is that if they complete a rigorous high school curriculum they will be college-eligible, and the sorts of outcomes that are emerging from our K-12 system,” he said.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have made a push in recent years to prepare their students for college by updating their high school graduation requirements to include four years of math and English, the course of study that Achieve, a nonprofit education reform group based in Washington, considers essential to post-secondary success.

California’s high school graduation requirements, which have not been substantially revised in more than a decade, only require two years of math, three years of English and no foreign language or science labs. Students hoping to study at one of the state’s 32 public universities must opt into the courses that make up the more strenuous A-G sequence and repeat the classes if they do not earn a C.

For families without previous higher education experience or living in communities without enough guidance counselors, chemistry sections or money for private tutors, “that’s a big hurdle,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of Campaign for College Opportunity. She said she often meets parents and students who are devastated to learn, in the child’s junior or senior year, that they do not meet the entrance requirements for the state’s public universities.

“I always tell folks that not everybody who works at a high school sees it as their responsibility to prepare your kid for college. They see it as their responsibility to get kids to graduate from high school,” said Siqueiros, whose group has examined the college achievement gap for blacks and Latinos in California.

With Latino children now a majority of California’s public school students, community groups increasingly are framing the problem as a civil rights issue and lobbying local school districts to put more young people on the college track by aligning their own graduation requirements with the A-G requirements.

Students in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and several other districts now are expected to complete the 15-course sequence, although they can still earn a high school diploma even if they earn D’s. In Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, this year’s 9th graders will be required to pass each of the prescribed classes with at least a C by graduation.

“We are not saying every student will be guaranteed of going into college because there are additional requirements the colleges have, a certain GPA being one, a certain score on the ACT or SAT are another,” said Nader Delnavaz, LAUSD’s administrative coordinator for college and career education. “What we are saying is we are not having a two-track or three-track high school diploma.”

In June, San Francisco Unified School District will graduate its first class that had to meet the minimum college entrance requirement. Jessica Hernandez, 17, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School, had hoped to attend UC Berkeley but got a D in geometry in 10th grade, had to repeat it, got behind in some classes and saw her grades slide.

Hernandez now plans to attend community college and hopes to go to Berkeley as a junior and become the first in her family to earn a degree. Meantime, she has offered advice to her younger sister who will start at Lincoln next fall.

“I’ve already been telling her that if she needs help, there is help here,” she said. “I’ve told her it is stressful, but if you keep up with all your work, it will pay off.”

Administrators say the switch to college-prep for all involves more than doing away with low-level math and science and is not a magic fix. Before San Jose Unified adopted the A-G course requirements starting in 1998, about 37 percent of its graduates were eligible for admission to a UC or CSU school. By 2012, it had risen only to 44 percent.

Thousands of students throughout the state are missing out on being deemed “A-G eligible” by virtue of one or two D grades, says Linda Murray, who was superintendent in San Jose when it updated its graduation requirements and now helps other districts.

That phenomenon suggests the problem is not standards that are out of reach for some but inadequate “safety nets” for young people, said Murray, now superintendent-in-residence for The Education Trust-West, an advocacy group addressing racial disparities in education.

“The right question isn’t: ‘Should every kid go to college?’ The question is: ‘Who should decide?’” Murray said. “It just seems to me the right thing to do is to make sure the doors are kept open so they have good choices when they are 18 years old.”


Report: California’s School Funding Flexibility Opportunity

The Public Policy Institute of California recently released a report looking at the impact of the sweeping changes in public education financing taking effect in 2009. These laws are set to expire this year, and PPIC has prepared an analysis and recommendations based on both the good and bad aspect of the laws impact thus far.

This report, along with previously released statewide survey data, the PPIC is providing convincing evidence in the overhaul of the statewide education system. The PPIC also suggest the time is ripe now as the 2009 laws are to be reevaluated. Results from the April 2011 report include:

  • Most Californians are very concerned that the state’s budget deficit will mean significant cuts to K–12 education.
  • Six in ten adults and likely voters favor Governor Brown’s plan of spending cuts and temporary tax increases to close the deficit and avoid cuts to schools.
  • More than half of public school parents say they have noticed reduced numbers of support staff or fewer programs at their child’s school.

Spurred by a deep recession and large budget shortfalls, the California Legislature in 2009 enacted what was arguably the largest change to California’s school finance system in decades—relaxing spending restrictions on more than 40 categorical programs through 2012–13, extended later to 2014–15. Categorical funding, which gives school districts money in addition to the general funds they already receive from the state, had been limited to specific, narrow purposes: buying textbooks or providing summer school, for example. Under the 2009 changes, districts could begin spending these funds for any educational purpose.

Because the laws were part of legislative negotiations over the state budget, not education policy, the decisions made in 2009 were far from optimal for K–12 schools. A more systematic and less political reconsideration of categorical flexibility could result in a more equitable and transparent distribution of funds, while also reserving targeted aid for students who need supplemental services. In addition, under the 2009 provisions, districts could spend categorical funds on any educational purpose. Both state policymakers and local district officials have expressed concern about the impact of completely flexible funds on the collective bargaining process; specifically, that those funds would be used inappropriately to increase teacher salaries and benefits rather than to provide additional services or materials for students.

This report offers three recommendations to improve current flexibility provisions that the legislature could consider should it pursue categorical flexibility beyond the program’s sunset date:

  • Distribute these less-restricted categorical funds more equally.
  • Apply clear criteria for flexibility and consider alternative configurations.
  • Consider some restrictions on flex item funds.

These recommendations would create a more equitable and transparent source of revenue. This would provide local school districts with increased flexibility in meeting student needs, and would be consistent with several recent major school finance reform proposals, as well as Governor Brown’s campaign plan for K–12 education.

When the law expires, the legislature will be faced with a decision: whether to return to the previous, tightly restricted categorical fund system or transition to a permanent version of the flexibility now in use.

To read the entire report, click here for the PPIC publication. This post contains excerpts from the original report.

Small Steps May Lead to School Finance Reform

PPIC released a new report this week indicating California’s schools inequitable finance system is  inadequately funded but can significantly improve the way it funds public schools by making small investments over time. Every year the state attempts to distribute more than 50 billion dollars worth of funding.

The report outlines a strategy to reform California’s school finance system—widely considered to be inadequately funded, inequitable, and overly complex. There is unlikely to be additional money available soon to address the first of these concerns—the level of funding. But the system can be made more equitable and transparent, and doing so would prepare the state to make the most of any additional resources in the future.

Instead of spending money focused on student needs, they are forced to adhere to a flawed funding system that includes a 1973 tax base, as well as hundreds of pieces of legislation doling out money based on the political whims of decades past.

“Given California’s budget problems, school finance reform isn’t likely to happen overnight,” says Margaret Weston, PPIC research associate and author of the report. “But small investments over time can add up to a big change. This approach wouldn’t require a major investment in a single year and would ensure that no district would see a decrease in funding per pupil.”

The report offers concrete ideas addressing systemic inequities and illogical policies that too often reward inefficiency, such as  districts that are adept at helping English learners become fluent in the language lose funding, while those who fail to do so continue to get extra resources to support those students’ needs.

Additional recommendations include:

  • State legislators don’t need to wait for a legal mandate to start fixing the system. The PPIC report offers policymakers some road maps for equalizing funding over the next several years, while still addressing the diverse needs of districts.
  • Increasing funding based more on the number of low-income students in a district rather than on English learners or the number of students who post low standardized test scores
  • A funding system that recognizes the expensive transportation needs of rural districts or those where high regional wages drive up the price of teachers

You can read the full report HERE or check out the press release HERE.

Let us know what you think on our Facebook page.

Education News Roundup

Photo credit: Good Education Change Agents (click image to read)

Within the small but mighty ranks of California GEAR UP, we often share articles of interest that sometimes become the focus of a blog post or shared on our Facebook and Twitter profile. We decided we would share with you some of the education websites we enjoy and in turn hear from you as to where you like to get your education news. Below is a list of websites and resources which is by no means comprehensive.

L.A. Times Education: A news blog operated by the LA Times that features local happenings and the political pulse of education in the southland. Particularly interesting during times of controversy, such as when the newspaper released testing data on more than 6,000 third to fifth grade teachers.

WestEd: A non-profit, non-partisan, research and development organization that focuses on achieving excellence and equity in education. Their reports are excellent and comprehensive and their enewsletters are a great source of information.

Good Education: Good is a magazine and is an ever evolving, self described ‘progressive’ organization and is a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits ‘pushing the world forward’. We like good because they bring fresh ideas from around the world with very little spin or editorial content.

Education Week: A never ending stream of information on all things education. We really like their Twitter feed, as it really is a fountain of information all day long.

Education Trust-West: Their basic tenant is “All children will learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels.” They work with school districts, principal, and teachers to conduct research and services to help transform all education institutions. Their blog is a good read.

Public Policy Institute of California: A nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank who are dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. Excellent publications.

NY Times Education: The best part of this NY Times website is the comments section on the articles. Comprehensive and a national focus.

Huffington Post College: College news and opinion from the left leaning Huffington Post. When your standard internet news sites get a little boring, check this one out and enjoy.

ASCD: Founded in 1943, ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization dedicated to advancing best practices and policies for the success of each learner. We like the SmartBrief you can sign up to receive daily education articles and professional readings.

That’s a brief rundown of some of our favorite sites. We’d love to hear where you go to get our education news. Let us know in the comments section, or chime in on our Facebook page.

Lessons in Reading Reform, CAHSEE Success from PPIC

Two interesting reports released by the Public Policy Institute of California we’d like to share with you. The first is on the California High School Exit Examination and how student success can be determined as early as fourth grade. The report suggests a philosophy shared by California GEAR UP, that providing resources to struggling students in early grades will be a more effective way to improve achievement than the current approach of focusing on students in the last year of high school.

The report suggests the following (read report for full recommendations):

  • Develop an “early warning” system to forecast which ele- mentary or middle school students will be at risk of failing the CAHSEE.
  • After-school reading classes and related reforms of intervention.
  • Consider targeting additional tutoring funds at elementary and middle school students at risk of failing the exam.
  • Consider additional academic support directed at the many students who marginally pass the CAHSEE.

The second report released this week addressed Lessons in Reading Reform.  The report is the first evaluation of the long-term effects of a massive reform program implemented in the San Diego Unified School District—the state’s second largest and one that is similar to the demographics of other large districts. It comes at a time of national debate over efforts to improve public school accountability. These efforts include setting content standards and student testing—but offer little guidance about how to help students improve.

The key element that seems to have driven success was a significant amount of extra student time spent on reading, with a possible additional factor being widespread professional development for district teachers. The combination was not cheap to implement nor a fix-all. But in elementary and middle schools it demonstrably worked.

Suggestions from the report include:

  • Early intervention is most effective.
  • Middle school students who took extended-length English classes made big gains.
  • A longer school year at elementary schools with the weakest reading scores led to moderate gains.
  • The reforms did not cause negative side effects.

Please take the time to review the reports and let us know what you think. You can comment on the blog or visit us on our Facebook page to leave a comment.