Better high school prep plans proposed

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High schools need to provide better education to students, in order to give them a better chance of attending college, said Susan King, vice president of Carnegie Corporation in New York.

“An enormous amount of people are not getting a high school degree, let alone going to college,” King said.

The graduation rate of high school students in the United States is 67 percent overall, and less than 50 percent in urban cities, King said.

Schools for a New Society, a program sponsored by Carnegie Corporation, is proposing to modernize public schools by holding higher expectations for every student, and by creating smaller schools, where high schools are divided into academies composed of 400 students each. This would foster individual interaction between teachers and students, King said.

Curriculum in smaller schools is more exciting and interactive, King said.

According to King, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is providing $800 million to work on the smaller schools project.

The program is being used in seven cities: Boston; Chattanooga, Tenn.; San Diego; Sacramento, Calif.; Houston; Wister, Mass.; and Providence, R.I., and has been around for only three years, she said.

There is no data yet on how much the program is helping students improve their work, King said.

The program started when Carnegie discovered 75 percent of students in urban schools throughout the country were still taking freshman-level courses beyond their freshman year because they could not pass their courses.

“You can’t have the same education your grandfather had,” King said.

According to King, we are now in a knowledge-based era where it is a necessity to go to college. Before World War II, people worked in factories. After the war, more people started attending college.

“People who have college degrees have higher income,” King said.

After the 1990s, college became a necessity due to globalization, because the manufacturing business became a smaller part of the economy, and because people were more focused on the importance of education and the value of having educated people in the workforce, King said.

“What you know is going to determine what you do in life,” King said.

Low college preparedness and attendance is due to the lack of high school preparation, financial aid, and affirmative action for students of lower socio-economic status, said Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

Many low-income students overcome obstacles in order to attend college, and colleges should take that into consideration, Kahlenberg said.

On average, low-income students receive less support at home, do not have access to private tutors or advanced placement courses, and are therefore less likely to continue on to higher education, Kahlenberg said.

Allison Jones, assistant vice chancellor of Academic Affairs for the CSU system, said the CSU adopted a remediation policy in 1996, called the Early Assessment Program, to help prepare high school students in English and math courses. The program amends the California state exams taken by high school students by adding 15 questions to see where they stand in math and English skills.

After viewing the results of the exams, students in 11th grade are told what they need to improve on during senior year, Jones said.

Tests help insure that graduating seniors in high school fulfill the requirements needed to succeed as freshmen in college, Jones said.

According to Jones, the annual report in Fall 2003 stated that students showed a 63 percent proficiency in math and a 57 percent proficiency in English.

“(There is a) disconnection between what is being taught in high school and what we expect in college,” Jones said.

Linda Zimmering, specialist to college programs, gifted programs, and new teacher-support programs in District One of the LAUSD said that college preparedness in high school is related to the high school courses students take.

If students take honors and advanced placement courses, they will ultimately do well in college, Zimmering said. However, students who do not take such courses will face more difficulty in the future.

“There’s a direct connection to the high school program,” Zimmering said.

Students who are enrolled in more selective colleges tend to do better than those students who are not, because those attending more selective colleges received a more competitive education in high school, Zimmering said. These courses helped ease the transition from high school to college for many of these students.

Zimmering is in charge of the Project College Bound program, which helps high school students determine what they want to do in the future.

Last year, 82 percent of African Americans and 78 percent of Latinos in the Project College Bound program went on to a four-year college.

The program consists of workshops that educate students about the process of applying to college through meeting the requirements set by those schools, she said.

Parent workshops are also included, in order to educate parents who do not understand the college application process.

According to Zimmering, there is a post-secondary commitment requirement for students at the schools in District One.

Students meet with a college counselor at school and not only declare a plan for the future, but show that they have an idea of how to implement the plan.

She said District One is the only district in all the LAUSD to have this requirement.

“We won’t let our kids graduate without an idea of what they’ll do next,” Zimmering said. “Our goal is to challenge the kids.”

For some, charter schools provide an alternative to prepare students for college.

Robert Schwartz, director of View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School, said View Park differs from other public schools because it is run like a private school, and is therefore effective in preparing students for college.

“We have a 200-page contract with LAUSD that allows the school to run the way we want, as long as we meet the academic and fiscal targets,” Schwartz said.

Students are required to take laboratory science classes, as opposed to public schools, which require earth sciences, Schwartz said. He said they teach to the top 25 percent of each class in order to keep them challenged.

“We start right away with biology in the ninth grade,” Schwartz said.

However, students who are not in the top percentage receive additional support from tutors and teachers who are readily available to help them catch up with the rest of the class.

According to Schwartz, this schooling process helps the students more in the long run.

“They struggle (in the beginning),” Schwartz said, “After the first semester, they do better.”

If the students do not struggle in high school first, they will struggle in college and ultimately drop out, he said.

“We teach every class like they are gifted students,” said Schwartz. “We don’t have honors classes. All classes are being taught on that pace.”

The school is also relatively small, when compared with public schools, Schwartz said.

“Public schools are too big,” Schwartz said. “(Students) just get lost in the system.”

View Park has 150 students, with a waiting list of 500 students.

Some parents of high school students are unaware about the necessary preparations students should make in order to succeed in college, said Hermann Clay, principal of Van Nuys High School.

Clay said the school holds parent meetings and workshops on campus about four times a year.

“We like to start with the parents of students as early as freshman year,” Clay said. “The focus of the institution is to prepare our students for college.”

According to Clay, the school has a wide range of advanced placement courses and is working to “up” the instructional rigor.

“We’re trying to
beef up our classes,” Clay said.

Students receive most of their information on college from assemblies, workshops, and an on campus full-time college adviser, he said.

However, the advisement is not a requirement for all students. Sometimes, the school identifies students who have potential and pulls those students in to seek college advisement, Clay said.

The level of difficulty is greater in college, and, contrary to their expectations, students discover that college requires more personal responsibility from them, Clay said.

Irene Clark, English professor, said she thinks high schools and teachers are doing the best they can, given the large size of the classrooms.

“I think high schools have to be commended,” Clark said.

One of the areas students need work in is writing, because they do not focus on the actual material and context of what is being read, Clark said.

“People don’t understand that writing is the key to success in every field,” Clark said.