By Veronica Melvin | OpEd in LA Newspaper Group/Daily News
19 June 2009 -- IN 1968 more than 20,000 high school students marched out of Los Angeles Unified School District eastside campuses and staged sit-ins to protest policies that steered the brightest students to trade classes rather than higher education.
Despite the effort, a policy requiring college preparatory coursework would not be adopted until 2005, under the guidance of then-School Board President Jose Huizar.
Now California legislators would turn back the clock on the academic gains of the past 40 years if Senate Bill 381 is passed in the Assembly. The bill - co-authored by Sen. Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Carlsbad) - would prohibit school districts from implementing graduation requirements composed of college preparatory courses that help students meet admissions requirements for the University of California and California State University systems unless the districts also adopt alternative coursework toward entry-level employment skills in business or industry.
Guiding students toward limited career choices - as SB381 proposes - negates them the opportunity to compete in a rapidly changing economy in which graduate-level education is increasingly required.
According to a statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, "Higher education faces long-term challenges, such as projections for increased need for college-educated workers in coming years."
The survey also revealed that nearly all Californians believe higher education to be important to the state's economic future and quality of life. Despite public support for higher education, too many state legislators are willing to back legislation that again relegates students to trade classes. The importance of supporting both college and career courses cannot be ignored.
Today, many trades and trade unions require their members to have a solid understanding of math, science and English, and spend considerable resources training members in these subjects. In fact, trade associations lose countless potential members who don't pass apprenticeship and entrance exams.
In some California schools, students are already being prepared for both college and career. More than a dozen districts throughout the state are launching college preparatory and career-ready initiatives that fuse the two disciplines, rather than offer diverging college prep or vocational education tracks as SB381 advocates. The benefits of doing so are multifold: Students are more interested in the material they are learning and experience greater comprehension through real-world and project-based applications.
As a result, students are more likely to stay in school, graduate prepared for a full array of post-secondary options. Many school districts, like LAUSD, are adopting this multiple pathway approach to high school reform.
Wright said that some students' "interest, aptitude or dreams don't require a degree from a four-year university."
While this may be true, it is not the state's decision to prepare some children for college and not others. If a child is prepared for the rigors of college, are they not also better-prepared for success in any career?
Veronica Melvin is executive director of the Alliance for a Better Community, a non-profit organization in the Los Angeles region.
●●smf’s 2¢: While I strongly support Career Technical Education as an alternative pathway to high school graduation I’m afraid SB 381 lacks the specificity and funding to accomplish what it sets out to do. A real CTE course of study should mandate a rigorous career and standards aligned curriculum; this bill invites a ‘shop class’ mentality and second class diploma.
As it is LAUSD’s supposedly rigorous A-G college prep grad requirements (which accept a ‘D’ grade to pass a class) is misleading. The UC and CSU programs do recognize less than a ‘C’ – and a student needs a good Grade Point Average and high test scores – and, unfortunately, a bundle of ca$h – to secure entry into the UC/CSU system. A recent LA Times editorial would require that ca$h for community colleges also.