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[Susan notes: Letter writers react strongly to California's plan to force every high schooler into a College prep curriculum. ]

Published in Sacramento Bee
02/23/2004

To the editor

Re "High school reform needed, but college is not for everyone," Dan Walters (Feb. 13), and "Stricter grad rules urged" (Feb. 12): To meet the needs of all students, high schools should offer both traditional and updated vocational education, not require all students to prepare for four-year universities.

Vocational and technical classes prepare students for careers and teach responsibility, discipline, work habits and life skills.



State Superintendent Jack O'Connell's plan to require all students to enroll in college-prep classes (and to meet all requirements for admission to the University of California) is a plan to increase the number of dropouts. Ultimately, all Californians will pay the price in decreased availability of skilled workers and soaring numbers of unskilled, unemployable youth.



One size does not fit all. Schools should offer students the basics and choices within a broad curriculum, including music, art and P.E. plus vocational and technical training to prepare them for college and careers.



- George Sheridan, Garden Valley



As Walters noted, O'Connell correctly stated that many students in public education "simply are not reaching the academic levels needed to succeed in the workplace, in college, or as effective citizens." California's new Master Plan for Education was developed to address this fact.



But the solution is not to simply channel all students to one place - college or otherwise. All students should be provided a rigorous curriculum and needed learning support, recognizing that a high quality education is the foundation needed to prepare students for success in all of life's activities.



Singularly defining success as earning a four-year college degree, and a rigorous curriculum as classes normally taken by the college-bound, ignores the needs and desires of students who wish to go straight to careers, and perpetuates the myth that success in careers that do not require a college degree is less important to individuals and society than pursuit of a college education.



Arguably, today's work force is more in need of people skilled in trades than holding college degrees.



- Charles A. Ratliff,

Sacramento Director, Education Master Plan Alliance




I read with great discouragement the article "Stricter grad rules urged." Not discouragement that we need higher educational standards, but because, invariably, there are many students who still will be left behind.



Not everyone is capable of college-level courses, which is why we have technological schools, community colleges and "blue-collar" jobs, the last being just as, if not more, important as highly educated doctors, lawyers, etc. I know, from personal experience, that it is not higher requirements we need, but better ways to teach all children.



No two people learn the same way. Some can just watch and listen to their teachers, as is prevalent in our schools now. But others need hands-on education or to have the information presented through music, art or other media. It's the concept of multiple intelligences and until we address those differences only more students will fail.



- Diane M. Davis, Sacramento



Most, but not all, students are developmentally and emotionally ready for the college requirement classes. Why is O'Connell making the decision to require completion of the college class requirements without the input of teachers and parents?



Parents, teachers, administrators and board members need to be in consensus about this topic. If the parents are not supporting the child and the teacher, then it may not matter which classes the child takes.



Teachers need the resources and administrative support to teach all students in the higher level classes. What about the higher level students? Under O'Connell's proposal their classes would be impacted with lower-performing students. How will that impact their education? The administration will need money to hire more qualified teachers to provide the classes needed to serve all students.



- Suzanna Johnson, Auburn



The apparent inconsistency of our state education leaders is not surprising. As almost any teacher will tell you, much of what occupies a teacher's time is adjusting to new educational "reform" programs.



For instance, our district and campus have spent the last two years on extensive training for high school instructors in Small Learning Communities (SLC), a concept supported by research. However, as O'Connell is now doubtless learning, what may look good in the planning stage is not always practical.



In the case of SLC, our faculty ultimately dismissed that plan in a quick vote of less than five minutes based upon our near-unanimous frustration with the program. The fact that we were given only empty promises to have input for developing specific designs to fit our campus destroyed any faculty support.



Sure, our schools need reform, but misleading teachers is not the way to do it.



- Christopher R. Barry, Sacramento



It is truly unfortunate that the man now responsible for educating our high school students, O'Connell, thinks all students should take college preparation courses in order to graduate.



Thousands of students will need and want job-training programs available through special classes now available at their schools, not college preparatory English and advanced algebra.



Does the plumber who fixes a toilet, or the electrician who repairs the faulty wiring in a house, need to speak college preparatory English or use advance algebra? California students hoping to move into the lucrative technical field need specialized training for these technical jobs before they graduate. These jobs can then lead to very successful careers and incomes.



- Ken Lybeck, Sacramento



O'Connell doesn't have a clue what needs to be done to improve K-12 student outcomes. His proposal would increase high school dropouts. Any half-intelligent educator knows that not all kids have the same mental ability. Their intelligence spans from one end of the bell curve, dull, to the bright end. Most are of average intelligence. Also, students who are accustomed to failure will fail at a greater rate when immersed in more rigorous college-prep classes.



O'Connell appears to be following in the footsteps of former Superintendent Bill Honig, who bamboozled the Business Roundtable into supporting education reforms in the 1980s that changed high school graduation requirements to follow the college-prep pattern.



Unfortunately, student outcomes haven't really improved dramatically because the premise of the reforms was flawed. The reforms assumed every kid was college material. Not true. Out of 10 students who enter high school, seven graduate, four go on and two eventually earn a bachelor's degree. The K-12 system is primarily geared to benefit about 20 percent of the kids.



O'Connell needs to provide some leadership to develop a world-class curriculum to benefit all kids rather than promoting a foolish pipe dream.



- Tom Bogetich, Carmichael







multiple authors


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