Sometimes I feel I am living in the Twilight Zone. Is it strictly science fiction to think the common school curriculum supported by leaders in education, business and labor will help raise student achievement across the grades? Perhaps yes.
I know many people, including many regular SJI commenters, blame teachers’ unions and parents for the crisis. But while we are pointing fingers, other countries are out-educating us—as Pres. Obama continues to remind us. I think we need to end the blame game and get on with some serious solutions. The momentum behind the “common content standards” moves us in the right direction.
We must remember the starting point. Education, kindergarten through college, makes-up 50-plus percent of this state’s budget. Irrespective of the racial achievement gap or high school drop-out rate, we are spending a huge amount of money in our community colleges on remedial classes for those students who do graduate from our high schools. (Play Twilight Zone’s theme music here.) Dollars we can put to better use for sure.
One local community college trustee recently told me more than 50 percent of students that graduated from our high schools and passed the California High School Exist Exam need one or more years of remediation in English and Math. That is before they can enroll in the courses they need to transfer to the CSU or UC systems. So we are subsidizing the third and fourth year for students in community colleges that were designed as a two-year program.
The common-standards effort began as a high-priority initiative of the National Governor’s Association in 2009. For years a federal effort at developing a common set of curriculum standards was anathema to the American tradition—the notion that local control of what is taught is infinitely better. Through vision and perseverance the effort has won out and we now stand at its threshold.
A recently released statement from the Albert Shanker Institute, a research arm of the American Federation of Teachers, says, “We, the undersigned, representing viewpoints from across the political and educational spectrum believe that whether children live in Mississippi or Minnesota, Berkeley or the Bronx, our expectations for their achievement should be equally high.”
According to Complete College America (completecollege.org) 60 percent of jobs in California by the end of this decade will require at least a two year post high school certificate or degree. According to their data, if you take 100 high school students who begin 9th grade today, only 66 will graduate. Of those 66 who graduate, 18 will begin a two-year program in a community college, but only five will graduate in three years.
Today, only 36 percent of American adults between 25-34 have at least a two-year college degree. The fuse on this time bomb continues to get us closer to educational Armageddon. Is anybody out there?
It is interesting to note our local community colleges and their current graduation rates. The good news is Silicon Valley has the top two community college graduation rates in three years in all of California, with Foothill and De Anza at 46 percent. The bad news, reported by the Mercury News in an editorial on Feb. 25, is that with the governor’s proposed $400 million cut to the community college system, as many as 350,000 students will be turned away this next year. As a society we cannot afford this cut…the fuse gets shorter.
If we did not have to remediate such a high percentage of community college students, we would be able to afford to serve more in this critical pathway to careers and four-year colleges. For the record, the other Silicon Vallay community college three-year graduation rates are (in order): Ohlone at 29 percent, College of San Mateo at 27 percent, West Valley at 24 percent Mission at 21 percent, San Jose City at 20 percent, Evergreen at 19 percent, and Gavilan at 19 percent.
Note: The time bomb referred to in this post is not science fiction.