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As debates swirl around high school reform, school boards face a decision to impose tougher graduation requirements.

School Board Delays Vote to Put All Students on College Prep Track

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2005

June 15th Followup - Standards Adopted - LA Daily News

June 15th Followup - Standards Adopted - LA Times

With hundreds of boisterous parents and students rallying outside its doors, the Los Angeles Board of Education postponed a vote Tuesday on a controversial proposal to require all high school students to complete a set of rigorous college preparation courses.

Board President Jose Huizar, who has championed the effort along with other educators and state officials, agreed to a delay after several members requested more time to discuss it.

The district proposal would require students — beginning with the freshman class in 2008 — to complete a series of high school classes required for admission into the University of California or California State University systems.

With the meeting progressing inside, about 500 members of the grass-roots coalition, Communities for Educational Equity, which has pushed for the tougher standards, circled district headquarters carrying placards and bullhorns.

They wore multicolored T-shirts that read "Let Me Choose My Future."

"We're asking how long do they need before they are ready?" said Luis Sanchez, executive director of the community group InnerCity Struggle, one of the groups in the coalition. "The board members are not going to learn anything more tonight that they don't know already…. This is about whether the board believes that all kids can learn and whether they're willing to devote the resources to make this happen."

Under the proposal, students would need to complete four years of English, three years of math and at least two years of history, science and a foreign language. To meet this standard, the school district would have to toughen existing graduation requirements to include two years of foreign language and a second year of algebra.

The district has not determined how much it would cost or how many additional teachers it would require.

The proposal has met with increasing resistance in recent weeks as some board members expressed concerns that there had not been sufficient time to discuss the plan and how it would be implemented.

Most supported the call for increased rigor, but questioned whether the plan allowed schools enough time to prepare low-performing students for the tougher classes and whether students not planning to attend college would still have access to vocational classes.

"I'm not ready to vote. This came to us very quickly," said board member Marlene Canter. "I am completely in favor of maximizing students' ability to go to college and I have high expectations for all students … but I don't know if there will be unintended consequences from this."

Board member Julie Korenstein, the proposal's most vocal opponent, was more doubtful. Referring to a recent study of district graduation rates, Korenstein said, "The district graduation requirements are already very stringent … and still half of the kids are not reaching them. Does it make sense to raise the bar higher?"

Huizar expressed frustration at such sentiments and the delay in the vote, while conceding that he probably did not yet have enough support from the seven-member board to assure the resolution's passage.

The vote is now scheduled for June 14, 2005.

School LAUSD adopts new standards

College-prep classes to be required

By Naush Boghossian, Los Angeles Daily News, June 15, 2005

The Los Angeles Unified School District board on Tuesday approved a controversial plan to toughen graduation requirements -- a plan which requires all students to complete college-prep curriculum in order to get a diploma. Amid hundreds of students wearing T-shirts that read "Let me choose my future," and chanting "Give us life prep, not a life sentence," outside the building, the board voted 6 to 1 to approve instituting the so-called "A-G" curriculum -- a series of 15 classes in English, math, science, foreign language and social studies.

Board member Marguerite LaMotte was the sole dissenter.

Jose Huizar, who championed the curriculum requirement, called it a profound high school reform that would have implications throughout the district, lifting it out of "perpetual mediocrity."

"This is one of the most significant reforms this district is embarking on in the last 20 years. The payoffs will be huge, the impacts will be huge," Huizar said after the vote. "Really what this is about is providing thousands of students an opportunity to attend college -- an opportunity denied to them with the current policies and practices."

The passage of the reform is a political win for Huizar, who announced his plans on May 25 to run for the Los Angeles City Council.

The A-G curriculum will be available to all students who request it in the 2006-07 school year, and it will be implemented slowly after that. By 2012, it will be mandatory for all students.

The University of California and the California State University systems require applicants to complete two years each of history/social studies, laboratory science, foreign language; three years of math; four years of English; one year of visual or performing arts; and one year of a college-preparatory elective.

LAUSD already requires most of these A-G courses to graduate with the exception of Algebra II and two years of foreign language.

Board members approved the policy after hours of discussion and expressing great reservation about whether the district has the resources to execute the requirement.

"I hope we don't create a greater dropout rate for L.A. Unified. I would strongly advise the board that if we find that students are being harmed, that there will be some means of taking corrective action," board member Julie Korenstein said. "For all of your sake and our sake here, I hope that a mistake has not been made."

The district has not yet determined the cost of implementing the requirement or how many additional teachers would need to be hired.

LaMotte urged her colleagues not to rush into a decision and questioned whether the district had the infrastructure in place to meet the basic academic needs.

"I think we need access to these higher-level courses, but I don't think we need to put any more barriers in the way of these students," said LaMotte, who represents south Los Angeles schools.

Some teachers urged the board not to approve the plan, as many LAUSD students are not meeting basic academic requirements. From LAUSD's class of 2003, only 36 percent of Latinos, 45 percent of African-Americans, and 52 percent of white students completed the college-prep A-G classes. The district has a high school dropout rate of 50 percent.

"Students are failing classes. Students are dropping out. We need help. We don't need more classes," said Daniel Somoano, a teacher at Bell High School.

College Prep Idea Approved in L.A.

School board votes to require students, with some exceptions, to take classes needed to enter state universities. Some teachers object

By Erika Hayasaki, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2005

Over the vigorous objections of some teachers and vocational education leaders, the Los Angeles Board of Education approved a bold academic reform plan Tuesday that will require high school students to complete a set of college prep courses.

Standing outside the Los Angeles Unified School District's downtown headquarters with several hundred cheering parents, students and community members after the 6-1 vote, board President Jose Huizar called it a victory.

"Thousands upon thousands of children will now have the opportunity to attend college, and that is an opportunity that wasn't there for them for many years," said Huizar, who introduced the plan, which was co-sponsored by board members Jon Lauritzen and David Tokofsky.

Board member Marguerite LaMotte, who represents many of the schools that serve parents and students who support the plan, cast the lone dissenting vote.

LaMotte said she was skeptical of how the district would implement the plan, including whether it could hire enough teachers for the additional courses when many schools were already relying on substitutes to instruct classes.

"Too many of my students in my district will be negatively and adversely affected by this mandate," she told the crowd, which was filled with students wearing red and blue T-shirts that read "Let Me Choose My Future."

"In their best interest, and in the best interest of some of your siblings, I cast a 'no' vote," she said as the crowd booed.

LaMotte's concerns echoed those of teachers and other board members who worried that the plan would hurt students who were already struggling with coursework.

Board member Julie Korenstein said: "I think about all of the students who may not get through high school because of this vote. I think about the students who may not get a diploma because of this vote."

Before voting "yes," Korenstein said she hoped "a mistake has not been made."

Beginning with the class of 2008, high school students will be required to complete the 15 courses needed for admission to the University of California or California State University systems unless they opt out.

They will be required to take four years of English, three years of math, two years of history, science and foreign language, and a year of visual and performing arts and advanced electives.

Under the plan, beginning with the class of 2012, all high school students will be required to complete those courses for graduation, except for some special education students, English learners and those who enroll in a career preparation program approved under state standards.

During a public hearing, Bell High School teacher Daniel Somoano asked the board to reject the plan, saying extra classes would not boost achievement.

"We need help. We don't need more classes," Somoano said. "Students are failing classes because they come in unprepared."

Vocational education supporters say the proposal will take away from their programs, which are designed mainly as an option for students who are not on the college track. They say because vocational programs have been reduced over the last decade, this plan will siphon resources from those courses.

Though a cost estimate has not been determined, board member Mike Lansing estimated that it could cost up to $100 million to implement.

"If this is going to be a true mandate, we have to put funding" with it, said Lansing, who asked the district to reevaluate the program's progress every three months. "Otherwise, it's just another un-funded mandate."

As the board deliberated, several hundred students and community members danced and rallied outside, chanting "Give us life prep, not a life sentence!"

Many were members of Communities For Educational Equity, a grass-roots organization that brought the idea to Huizar and schools Supt. Roy Romer a year ago.

Huizar said he pushed the proposal after hearing from students who complained about being tracked into "dead end" courses because more rigorous classes were full. They said overburdened counselors often did not have time to map out a college plan for them.

Luiz Sanchez, an organizer of the group, said by supporting the plan, the board accepted a challenge.

"Six months ago, the district wasn't even touching" the college prep issue, he said. "Now it is front and center."

Sanchez said that after months of rallies, church meetings and petitioning, the district has listened to community concerns. "Students," he said, "fought to make this possible."


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Last modified: June 15, 2005

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