Big high school district adopts A-GFew Hispanics in district now qualify for CSU
The largest high school district in Northern California has adopted A-G, the courses required for admission to a four-year state university, as its default curriculum. East Side Union, whose 26,000 students live in East San Jose, joins Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose unified districts, which already require or have set a date for requiring taking all A-G courses as a condition for graduation.
The unanimous vote by the trustees was a surprise, since the board split 2-2 last month on the issue. But passage was assured when retiring board President Eddie Garcia, who has been seriously ill since last summer, attended specifically to vote for the resolution. Formal opposition by the East Side teachers union failed to materialize, notwithstanding misgivings of some teachers.
“I want to set the bar higher and give the opportunity for all students to succeed,” said trustee Frank Biehl in announcing his vote.
Californians for Justice, an activist group of minority students, had campaigned for A-G adoption, as had the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (my employer). The Latino Coalition of East Side also announced its support at the meeting.
The 38 percent of East Side Union graduates who met A-G requirements in 2008 were 4 percentage points above the statewide average. But only 26 percent of African American students and 20 percent of Hispanics – 2 percentage points below the state average – qualified. This compares with 29 percent of Hispanics in San Jose Unified, which has had A-G completion since 2002. Students must complete 15 courses (17 recommended) in seven subject areas, with at least a grade of C in every course, to be accepted in a CSU or UC school. Many students in San Jose Unified complete the courses with at least one “D” and still get a high school diploma. The same will be true in East Side Union.
The East Side Union policy, which will take effect for students entering ninth grade next year, will mean that the district will assume that all students will be scheduled in A-G qualifying courses. With families’ permission, juniors and seniors who are struggling with Algebra II or want to pursue a non-qualifying vocational path probably will be able to opt out and still graduate (details of the policy have yet to be worked out).
Tracking no longer – intentional or not
What the policy will prevent is tracking – overt or unintentional. It will take the power to decide who gets to go to a four-year school out of the hands of course schedulers and give it to students and parents. In the lead-up to the vote, trustees heard stories about students, particularly from immigrant families, who learned only upon graduation that they hadn’t taken the prerequisite courses for college admission. That, of course, is no longer surprising when counselor positions have been cut in many schools, leaving students without guidance about career and college paths.
But the filtering starts in ninth grade, when many students in East Side and other districts are assigned to integrated science, a non-A-G course, instead of biology as one of two science courses needed for graduation. Ironically, in three of the schools with the most English learners and needy students – James Lick, Overfelt, and Yerba Buena – dynamic principals committed to raising student expectations have moved to phase out integrated science. But nearly half the students in other schools are taking it. The new policy will finally force consistency to the district’s 11 comprehensive high schools.
In response to a survey, a number of East Side teachers questioned the assumption that all students should aim for four-year colleges and predicted that A-G will cause many students to fail and drop out. But that has not been borne out in San Jose Unified, where the dropout rate hasn’t risen, while the A-G completion rate has.
But those who say that students who are failing Algebra I multiple times will not complete Algebra II have a valid point – especially for East Side Union, which has no control over the academic preparation of students from feeder middle schools. For its part, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation is running summer school to prepare hundreds of incoming eighth graders in East Side Union’s feeder districts for Algebra I. The expectation is that more students will leave middle school ready for geometry in ninth grade, setting them on the path for A-G completion.
There’s no question, however, that East Side Union will need to put in place academic supports for students struggling with more rigorous courses – a big burden in hard times. And within the next two or three years, some schools will have to hire more chemistry and foreign language teachers (A-G requires two years of lab science and two years of a foreign language). And some teachers of non-A-G elective courses, many of whom may be near retirement age, will have to become certified in other courses. Supt. Dan Moser has promised that no teachers will be laid off because of the adoption of A-G.
Adoption of A-G will inject academic rigor into the district’s career tech programs, inducing them to seek certification as A-G approved courses. (Fred Jones of GetREAL California and advocates of more traditional vocational training have argued in previous comments that A-G alignment can undermine hands-on training in electronics and other trades.)
Requiring students to pursue A-G courses should better prepare them for post-graduate education, whether it’s for an associate’s degree at a community college or a BA at a UC or CSU campus. Planning for a career or college will no longer be an afterthought; for many in East Side Union, it will begin in ninth grade or sooner.