The Los Angeles Unified School District approved a proposal June 14 that will require high school students to pass a new set of classes that will qualify them for admission to the California State University and University of California systems.
The reform was co-sponsored by school board President Jose Huizar, and will require students to take a sequence of 15 classes, known as “A-G requirements,” before graduation.
The new requirements will obligate students, with some exceptions, to take two years of a foreign language and an extra year of algebra.
Under the old curriculum, students were not required to take a foreign language and were only required to take two years of math.
Through the 6-1 vote, the school board stated the LAUSD is failing to educate and prepare a significant number of students with the skills necessary for today’s workforce.
The school board said students were not given the choice to pursue the various options that enable them to be considered for college admission.
School board member Julie Korenstein, who was originally opposed to the proposal, voted in favor of the reform.
Korenstein said it was a difficult decision that involved “tremendous soul-searching.”
“I’m still worried that students won’t take the required classes and (will) end up dropping out,” Korenstein said.
She said the reform will require that schools hire more counselors and foreign language and algebra teachers.
“Ultimately, it will be a positive move for students,” Korenstein said.
Korenstein said she is also worried that the CSU and UC systems might not have room for all the students who will be eligible for admission.
The campaign for reform was started five years ago by a coalition known as Communities for Educational Equity, according to Luis Sanchez, executive director of InnerCity Struggle, one of the leading organizations within the coalition.
“Students complained that they were getting dead-end classes in replacement of the A-G requirements,” Sanchez said.
He said that schools in East and South L.A. were most affected by the lack of class availability.
“At Roosevelt High School in East L.A., only 65 percent of the classes are A-G,” Sanchez said. “At Calabasas High School, 88 percent of the classes are A-G.”
Sanchez said the consequence of not taking the courses is a dead-end, low paying job.
“It’s either A-G or Wal-Mart,” Sanchez said.
According to a CEE report, Latinos and African Americans were more affected by the previous graduation requirements than other ethnic groups. The report showed that only 24 percent of African Americans and 22 percent of Latinos complete the college track A-G requirements.
The report also showed that just 20 percent of those African American and Latino students who meet A-G requirements attend four-year public colleges.
“We want all schools to have the same access,” Sanchez said.
The Education Trust-West, an organization that works to promote academic achievement, recently reported that 56 percent of African Americans and 44 percent of Latinos graduate from LAUSD high schools.
A USC study reported that by 2020, the California workforce will be composed of more than 70 percent non-white people, with the majority being second- and third-generation Latinos.
The plan will also improve and strengthen vocational and technical career education programs to better prepare students for today’s skills-intensive job market.
“They aren’t fixing (1957 Chevys) in the backyard anymore,” Sanchez said. “They are fixing these new Hondas that have advanced computer technology.”
Sanchez said that to be an auto technician today, students need trigonometry.
School board member Jon Lauritzen said 15,000 signatures on a petition, mostly from inner-city kids, persuaded him to propose the reform plan to the school board.
Lauritzen is one of the original co-sponsors of the plan.
“There is a large segment of the community that feels they are not being given the opportunity to take the A-G requirements,” Lauritzen said.
Although there is no estimated cost for the project, Lauritzen said that the most expensive part of the reform will be the additional academic counseling.
The LAUSD will be seeking additional funding from the California Legislature, as no additional state money has been allocated to the reform.
Beatriz Pisterman, a bilingual educational aide at Van Nuys Junior High School, said students need to be challenged.
“They should be pushed,” Pisterman said. “They can do it.”
Pisterman, who is in favor of the reform, said she does not lower the standards for her students.
“I always ask for more,” she said. “I never let them settle. If we raise the expectations, (students) will live up to the expectations.”
According to a report by Families in Schools, a Los Angeles organization that works in collaboration with the CEE, the reform proved successful in the San Jose school district, where it was implemented in 1998.
Graduation rates increased 6 percent as a result of the reform. In addition, the achievement gap between Latino and white students was reduced by 48 percent over a five-year period.
Under the new plan, students entering the ninth grade in 2008 will be required to enroll in the A-G requirements. According to Lauritzen, the plan should be fully implemented by 2010.
Students, along with a parent or legal guardian, may request a waiver at the beginning of the second semester of their tenth grade year. An individual learning plan will be assessed for students who opt out of the requirements.