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Commentary: To improve LAUSD graduation rates, let’s revisit A-G

Guest contributor | May 22, 2015

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graduationBy Martin Blythe

In a commentary last week, four LA Unified students demanded that the district retain the A-G college-prep graduation requirements —  Cs or better for a diploma — despite warnings that it would lead to tens of thousands of students not graduating in the years ahead.

While more money and resources often solve problems, they will not address the core issue here, which I believe is the A-G requirement itself. The A-G requirement was designed to fix one problem, but it was far too simplistic, and we are now seeing the unintended consequences: it is hurting too many students.

It is now time to ask whether every one of the A-G courses has to be a requirement for high school graduation.

Advanced algebra? Two years of a language?

This quickly becomes a zero-sum game, I know, but couldn’t we offer several different pathways to graduation – some semi-academic ones in addition to the specifically academic one? Instead of throwing money at remedial summer school, a better choice would be spending on oversight for assuring true choice and for tutoring, options that have not been available for some college-aspiring students.

I am not arguing for a return to the segregation of the vocational track. I am arguing for flexibility.

Why not take the non-required “electives” that are worth 25 credits and boost them to 40 credits, and allow students to take more ROP (Regional Occupational Program) and CTE (Career and Technical Education) and Linked Learning courses — agriculture, automotive, technology and other specialized trades — on the way to 210 total credits?

Then allow students to drop a course or two from A-G that they cannot manage or that they have failed. From what I have seen, struggling students are dropping the optional ROP/CTE courses they like — and are succeeding in — because they have to spend more time repeating the required A-G courses that they have failed.

I also would like to see these alternative pathways integrated more with Special Ed.

Sure, any time something like this is brought up, it’s perceived as a second-class “vocational” track for working class Hispanic, African-American and Special Ed students. There is always a risk that students will be steered wrongly, but we have that happening already.

Yes, we should continue to offer students the academic pathways and supports they need if they want to go to a four-year university, but we’re being dishonest to the students by pretending C grades will be enough.

Even if they get to a community college, 70 percent of California’s community college students fail to graduate or transfer. Courses in agriculture, horticulture, fashion and design, automotive, machine shop, sports and so on can help keep struggling students focused on staying in school and graduating. Isn’t that the true goal here?

As we continue to be dishonest, kids will fail or flee to charter schools that can offer them an education with a practical, learning-based approach and the possibility of real jobs ahead of them. 

I just wish these four student authors could see that flexibility and choice can also be part of their fight for equity and justice. Do they really want to deny their fellow students a choice over their pathway to graduation? Do they really want to see no further debate about how we define A-G? Beware of the law of unintended consequences.

Martin Blythe is a parent of an LAUSD 9th grader

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