With adoption of A-G, capable students like these will get courses they need
The reporting on the East Side Union High School District’s adoption of the A-G default curriculum by my colleague John Fensterwald has certainly generated several responses. When I first advocated for this position, there were several similar responses from readers. One would think that the position that the board of trustees has taken is about to ruin a history of success in East Side. One East Side staff member spoke in another communication of “dooming these students to failure.” One blog response (with which several others agreed) is that this was a “wrong headed” decision. But it is important to note that these responses are opinions, not fact. There is no evidence that more students will fail in East Side as a result of adopting A-G. In fact, the experience in San Jose Unified was the opposite. The dropout rate did not increase and more students completed the A-G requirements. Furthermore, San Jose Unified required the A-G courses in order to graduate, and not just as default. In East Side, students will be able to opt out of A-G courses if deemed too difficult.
(By the way, one more time: The East Side policy does not “require” all students to take A-G coursework. But the burden of proof lies on others to show that a student should not take a class, and not the other way around. John appears to make that clear).
Now, the A-G policy is not the panacea for all student issues in East Side or anywhere else. Students who struggled because they were well below grade level will still do so unless they have additional help. Students will not miraculously find themselves at grade level in reading and math as a result. But allow me to share two real examples of students who would be helped by such a policy. Both students (who I will call Juan and Vito) are Hispanic students from my former district with whom I recently had contact.
Juan successfully passed geometry in grade 8. His mother, who I knew from my Hispanic Parent Committee, does not speak English very well but was involved in her son’s education. Juan was correctly placed in Algebra II in grade 9 as well as college prep English. But for some reason he found himself in study skills and general science. If it had been my child, a quick phone call to the guidance office would have corrected the problem. As it was, my chance meeting with his mother at a presentation, along with a helpful principal, took care of the change. He was appropriately placed in more rigorous classes, including grade 9 biology. Juan will eventually go to college but perhaps in his junior year he will want the option of attending one of the more elite universities. In that case, the minimum A-G coursework will not do. He will be competing with students in districts where rigorous coursework begins in grade 9.
Vito was entering his senior year of high school this year and moved from East Side to San Jose Unified. He found himself short four A-G classes needed to graduate from San Jose Unified and took a more rigorous set of courses this year than he had intended. Since he intends to get a college degree, the increased rigor will benefit him in the long run. When I spoke to his mother, she was surprised that San Jose Unified had a more rigorous graduation requirement, and wondered why all districts do not have the same requirements for graduation. As a result of the transfer to San Jose Unified, one more Latino student will have completed the A-G coursework.
The A-G default (or required as in San Jose Unified) is not the magic solution for all students. But for students like the ones I just described it will make a difference. Rather than being doomed to failure, they will have something that so many other students take for granted: options for higher education.
Manny Barbara, former Superintendent of the Oak Grove School District, is VP of Advocacy and Thought Leadership for SVEF. He has been selected four times as Administrator of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators, and as Educator of the Year in 2008 by 100 Black Men of Santa Clara County. During his 10 years as superintendent, performance increased for all district student subgroups, including the number of students successfully completing algebra and geometry by the end of 8th grade.