Thursday, July 16, 2009


by Howard Blume | LA Times LA Now blog

1:45 PM | July 15, 2009 -- California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed said that what passes for algebra in high schools is really “algebra light,” and characterized as “outrageous” that school districts don’t require more of their students.

The backdrop for Reed’s comments, in an interview and in formal remarks before a lunchtime audience this week, was the official opening of the new California State University Center to Close the Achievement Gap.

“We can’t get many school districts to adopt A-G,” Reed said, referring to the courses required to apply to the University of California and Cal State systems. “That is outrageous.”

And even students who take these classes aren’t learning what they’re supposed to, according to Cal State data. More than 60% of first-time freshmen require remedial education in English, mathematics or both. All these students passed the required college preparatory curriculum and earned at least a B grade point average in high school. The picture is more stark for minority students. More than half of African American students, for example, enter Cal State as proficient in neither math nor English.

Focusing on math teachers in particular, Reed said that “less than half” of algebra teachers “had algebra classes or were taught how to teach algebra.”

Developing remedies will be a focus of the new center, which is mostly privately funded, with a projected $1.6-million annual budget. The top four donors are State Farm Insurance, Edison International, Macy's and the United Way of the Bay Area. Cal State’s contribution includes office space and technical support.

The center will be run by veteran educator Jim Lanich, 52, as the next step in an earlier collaboration  with Cal State. In recent years, Lanich has headed California Business for Education Excellence, which also is mostly privately funded. In that role, Lanich helped develop an honor roll of high-achieving schools, including many that serve low-income and minority families. 

Lanich also has used this platform to fault the California school accountability system as overly lax and wasteful of taxpayer dollars.

In his remarks, during a gathering on the Cal State L.A. campus east of downtown, Lanich said the lever to change would be improving teacher quality, developing real accountability and focusing on practices that have produced results. Working teachers need an opportunity to learn from successful schools, he said.

Reed added that these top-flight programs also need to inform teacher training at the 22 Cal State schools with teacher credentialing programs, which produce 17,000 teachers a year.

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