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Commentary

In Our Schools, Cosmetology Is No Substitute for Calculus

All kids deserve college prep.

April 08, 2002|GENETHIA HUDLEY-HAYES | Genethia Hudley-Hayes is a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District board.

Imagine a time when some students are prepared to become doctors, lawyers and scientists and others are trained to cut their hair and be their secretaries.

This inequitable method of educating children happens today in school districts across the country, including Los Angeles Unified.

Thousands of Los Angeles high school students are channeled into vocational education classes such as cosmetology, office work, floor covering, bank telling and auto shop because there is not enough room in academic courses. In many cases, the students don't learn until it is too late that the vocational classes can hurt their chances of going to college.

There's nothing wrong with students developing employable skills, nor is there anything wrong with being a mechanic or a secretary. What is wrong, however, is when a school system decides any student's aspirations.

The fact that there are six cosmetology classes and no advanced mathematics classes at overcrowded Fremont High School in South-Central Los Angeles doesn't necessarily mean that 150 juniors and seniors want to work in beauty salons. It means that school officials have decided that students from low-income neighborhoods need more access to thermal hair-straightening techniques than to calculus.

In Los Angeles, inner-city schools have fewer fully credentialed teachers than schools in more affluent parts of the district. They offer fewer Advanced Placement and other college prep courses; they are more run-down and overcrowded; and they are more likely to be on a year-round schedule, which research has shown is detrimental to learning. By expecting so little of our poor students--who largely are African American or Latino--by denying them the course work and resources they need to get into college and develop meaningful careers, we are relegating them to permanent second-class status.

Right now, according to the California Education Department, three out of four African American students, nearly four out of five Latino students and more than four out of five students from rural areas will not be eligible for UC or Cal State schools because they didn't take the necessary classes.

Fortunately, help is on the way. California State Senate Bill 1731, introduced by Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar), would require high schools to enroll every student in the college preparatory course work necessary for access to the UC and Cal State systems unless after they are advised of all their choices they opt out with the consent of the school and their parents.

In the past three years, LAUSD has been a leader in the fight for quality educational opportunities for all students. Three years ago, we took a controversial stand by mandating that elementary schools use Open Court or other phonics-based reading programs. Test scores have since risen dramatically. A year ago, we began a new math program that expects every student to be ready for algebra by eighth grade.

Now, we must take a stand again; we must support SB 1731. We who set educational policy need to believe that each and every child is capable of learning, and we must provide them all with real educational opportunities.

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