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Commentary: LA Unified should keep A-G curriculm in place

Guest contributor | June 5, 2015

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GRADUATIONBy Michele Siqueiros

How does the daughter of a seamstress with a sixth grade education get to college? 

For me, it was luck. As a good student I worked hard in school, but had I not been lucky in high school to be assigned the A-G high school courses required for consideration to the University of California, the California State University and most private colleges, I would not have had the ability to make the choice.  And as the first in my family to go to college, neither my mom nor I would have known any better.   

Today, that is still true for many students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. This is why in 2005 a multi-racial and citywide coalition joined forces to demand that an LAUSD high school diploma’s requirements be linked to the college prep A-G courses. To not do this, meant then, as it does today, that adults are making decisions affecting the college opportunity of hundreds of thousands of students.

The original resolution has resulted in more college prep courses across all LAUSD high schools, higher graduation rates and more students completing A-G than 10 years ago. Despite this progress however, two-thirds of the Class of 2017, the first class required to graduate having completed the A-G curriculum with a C or better, is poised to not graduate without radical intervention.

As LAUSD reviews this policy Superintendent Ramon Cortines told Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times that while the policy was laudable, it may need to be reconsidered. Twelve years to put this policy in place successfully should have been enough time. And if it is not, the answer isn’t to reward LAUSD by simply allowing them to eliminate this policy. 

The answer from LAUSD leaders should be to stop making excuses and find ways to make the policy work so they can put all high school students on track to graduate high school with A-G eligibility. They should replicate what is happening at Mendez High School and other schools that are on track to prepare their students. Why should we allow LAUSD administrators to determine who will have the chance to go to college? How can they be forced to put in place the support for students and teachers so our kids can get the classes they need and pass them to earn both their high school diploma and be college ready if we allow them to backtrack now?

Today, the urgency of educating more Angelenos is greater, not less.  Research continues to justify the reasons why a college degree is valuable, including significant added earning potential. In California, someone with a college degree will earn more than $1.3 million more over a lifetime. And research by the Public Policy Institute of California confirms that even during the height of the recession, those with a college education had significantly lower unemployment rates than their peers without a college degree. 

Having an educated populace also means higher tax returns for the state and our cities, lower rates of incarceration, less taxpayer spending on social services, greater civic engagement and higher rates of homeownership. In other words, college educated Angelenos are not only benefitting themselves, but the rest of us, as well. And our workforce is also demanding better-trained and educated workers for many job openings.

This is why today, families and community leaders are rallying once again for a new LAUSD board resolution that recommits the district to keeping its promise of A-G for all and to support the Class of 2017 and those that follow to meet the graduation requirement.

The best high schools in our city, public or private, are the ones that prepare students with rigorous coursework and ensure that they all have the choice to apply to a university. Why should LAUSD turn back the clock on progress, and lower the bar instead of finding the will to meet it? 

Our economic future is tied to the educational success of LAUSD graduates. Parents, students and advocates were right a decade ago when they demanded a higher standard for LAUSD’s students, even if the District has fallen short of meeting it. While I may have been lucky to get to college, luck is not a strategy we should rely on for giving all LAUSD graduates this choice.    

Michele Siqueiros is President of the Campaign for College Opportunity and a former Governor Brown appointee to the California Student Aid Commission.

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