By Dan Walters - Sacramento Bee Columnist
June 24, 2008 - The Legislature's budget analyst issued a report last week on the chronic problems that the state's community colleges encounter in instilling the fundamental reading, writing and mathematics skills their students need to obtain college educations.
CALIFORNIA LEGISLATIVE ANALYST'S OFFICE:
"Most incoming (community college) students are not ready for college-level work," the report says. "In addition, relatively few of these students reach proficiency during their time (in community college)."
That's interesting, but it also raises this question: Since virtually all of those community college students graduated from high school, what is that telling us about the level of K-12 instruction?
One presumes, perhaps naively, that if someone possesses a California high school diploma, thus signifying 12 years of education costing taxpayers around $130,000, that someone must possess basic reading, writing and computational skills.
Remember, we're not talking about the roughly one-third of California's teenagers who don't graduate from high school; with few exceptions we're talking about graduates who have enough gumption to attend community college, and yet, this report says most don't have the appropriate basic skills for college-level studies. By the way, that also doesn't count the large numbers of high school graduates – well over a third – who require remedial instruction after being accepted into the California State University system.
It's in that context that we should consider several other recent reports on California schools – researching the problems of the 6 million-student system having become a cottage industry.
The California High School Dropout Research Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is part of that cottage industry, and its devastating report on the Los Angeles Unified School District concludes that an LAUSD student has a less than 50-50 chance of completing high school and lists the factors in junior high school and the early years of high school that can predict dropout failure or graduation success.
The report's success predictors include passing algebra by the ninth grade. Ironically, as it was being issued, the state Board of Education was considering a recommendation from the state Department of Education to soften up the policy of introducing algebra in the eighth grade. And the department was also releasing new high school graduation numbers indicating that the dropout problem at LAUSD may be much worse than the UC Santa Barbara report charts, perhaps as high as 60 percent.
Meanwhile, EdSource, a Mountain View think tank devoted to researching California schools, released a study indicating that charter schools – quasi-private schools inside the public school system – showed overall stronger educational outcomes than traditional public schools, even when the data are adjusted for ethnic, linguistic and economic factors.
The report, which refutes many of the criticisms of charter schools that are chanted by the educational establishment, was issued as charter schools in Los Angeles wage a war for survival against that establishment, led by school union officials. And it mirrors a report issued by the California Charter Schools Association about the performance of charter schools in that city.
In a double irony, as those reports surfaced, the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy article about Phil Holmes, whom it describes as "one of the greatest English teachers of his generation," detailing how Holmes, now a teacher in a charter school in a poverty-stricken section of Los Angeles, is able to succeed in teaching high-level English where others have failed.
His school, View Park Preparatory Charter High School, is 96 percent African American, and almost all of its graduates are admitted to four-year colleges, a third of them to the University of California.
Think about it.