Everybody in the Nation Should Be Worried About the California Schools Chief's Call for Changes in High Schools
Schools Chief Calls for Push to Improve California's High Schools
Jennifer Coleman, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO – California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell called Wednesday for a renewed push to improve the state's high schools, saying that only about half of high school graduates are prepared to succeed in college or the work force.
"This translates into lost opportunity on a tragic scale," O'Connell said in his first "State of Education in California" address to the education community. "That thousands of students may fall short of their potential is rightly viewed as a failure on our parts."
While test scores have steadily risen for California elementary and middle schools, high schools have lagged.
New education initiatives could be stymied by the state's multibillion-dollar budget deficit, but O'Connell urged education officials to not use the budget crisis "as an excuse" for failing to educate students.
Last summer, the state Board of Education voted to postpone the requirement that each high school students pass an exit exam to get a diploma after results showed that 20 percent of the class of 2004 wouldn't graduate. About half of students who aren't fluent in English, and three-quarters of special education students, would have failed to get a diploma.
Only half of California high school students take college-prep classes that will them prepare for college or the workplace, O'Connell said, but surveys of high school students found that 97 percent want to go on to college and two-thirds will enroll.
That, O'Connell said, shows "a tragic disconnect between the high aspirations of these students and their poor preparation."
Of those that do attend four-year colleges, about a quarter won't advance to their second year, the California Department of Education found. At two-year colleges, nearly half won't return for a second year.
To fix this, O'Connell said, he would push to do the following:
– Raise expectations for high school students and putting all students in college-track courses that are required for University of California and California State University admission.
– Attract the "best and brightest teachers" and principals to high schools by improving preparation and support.
– Create a statewide system to review and recommend high school textbooks that are aligned with the state's academic standards. Currently, the state Board of Education does this for K-8 textbooks.
– Smooth the transition to and from high school by coordinating with middle schools and colleges.
– Engage parents, businesses and communities in improving high schools.
O'Connell said he'd asked the Legislature to give high schools more flexibility in how they spend money for more than a dozen existing programs, such as Advanced Placement, class-size reduction and drop out prevention, totaling $450 million.
His proposal would give schools block grant for those programs, freeing them up to use the money as they see fit. Schools that wanted the block grants would have to meet academic targets.
Local school officials and education advocates applauded the focus on high school students.
Class-size reduction and other reforms have focuses largely on younger students, and have shown results, said Imperial County Superintendent John Anderson.
"High schools have traditionally been forgotten," said Anderson, who oversees about 34,000 K-12 students in 62 schools.
He supported O'Connell's goal of expanding outreach programs that have been proven to help high school students raise their grades and test scores – some of which are scheduled for elimination under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget.
"That would be a terrible loss for many students," Anderson said. "And it's self-defeating."
Today's graduates need to have math and English skills that used to be required only of those who planned to go to college, said Russlyn Ali, director of the West Coast offices of The Education Trust. "Ready for work and ready for college mean the same thing."
O'Connell, entering his second year as state superintendent, also said he wants to reduce the administrative burden on local school officials by eliminating overlapping or unnecessary reporting requirements.
Jennifer Coleman, Associated Press
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