I hope we can agree to stipulate that American jobs will require more cognitive ability today and in the ensuing decades than ever before in American history. Therefore, the push for higher academic standards for all public schools logically follows. Yet when I try to connect the dots among the issues on the American agenda for education, to increase cognitive skills for its system of public schools, I get these Whiskey, Tango and Foxtrot (WTF) moments.
I am still flummoxed by the Republican presidential candidates lack of discourse on the issue of public education, instead focusing much of their policy energy on jobs. To my view the two issues are inextricably linked. As we develop more and more jobs that require expanding cognitive skills in the preschool through university (P-16) public education system, the institution is charged with the mission. However, the dots do not connect. Let me explain.
Morgan Hill Unified’s Board of Education on Tuesday, Feb. 7, convenes a study session on the topic of college admission A-G Requirements (high school courses required for admission to UC/CSU) and the Morgan Hill Unified School District Graduation Requirements. Palo Alto Unified’s Board of Trustees will be studying its administration’s recommendation to set policy that makes A-G requirements the default curriculum later this spring.
Adding to the disconnect of the dots is the view by Palo Alto Unified’s math teachers that keeping the status quo in their system is proper, even though the results from the data are abysmal—only 40 percent of Latinos complete the A-G requirements compared to 79.5 percent district-wide. San Jose Unified was the first district in the state to embrace the college readiness goal for all its students by setting a policy for A-G to be the default curriculum for all high school students.
East Side Union embraced the policy movement in Fall 2011. The data, thus far, is inconclusive about whether raising the graduation requirements for all students in isolation is effective.
Knowing there will be little to no help coming from the state of California, local districts must wrestle with these issues by themselves. There is no doubt that if the district board can take a holistic view and can increase funding with the intent of expanding counseling/tutoring services, Career Technical Education courses, and increased rigor in middle schools, the results on an A-G graduation policy will pay higher and higher dividends. The results also will have a dramatic impact on significantly reducing the high school dropout rate.
Other dots that must be connected going forward include bringing the spiraling cost of public college education to a halt, which would open up more spaces for those wishing to attend college after completing the required A-G requirements in high school.
Out-of-the-box thinking from the FixUC Student Investment Proposal, which suggests eliminating tuition costs upfront, encourages me. It proposes free tuition but requires a payment after graduation of 5 percent of an individual’s salaries for 20 years, while reducing paybacks if one goes into careers like teaching.
This type of creative thinking and problem solving is key to a brighter future for California as we work to connect the right dots, and increase cognitive skills for all students.