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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

High School Curriculum Should Be More Relevant

November 09, 2002

Classes that are rigorous, interesting and relevant for all high school students are urgently needed in Los Angeles schools. KAREN KARLITZ recently spoke with CAPRICE YOUNG, president of the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, about changes in that direction that are taking place.

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We don't have high enough expectations for our high school students. Many of our kids, particularly in inner cities, do not receive the rigorous course work they need to either go to university or to enter a career after high school.

Currently most school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, make the assumption that students will not be going to college. Students get courses needed to graduate, not necessarily those required for college. Many parents think that because their kids get A's they are on a university track. Then in their child's senior year, they discover the college-required courses have not been taken.

Creating school-to-career programs is another way to save our high school students. These programs focus on the core curriculum of a career direction chosen by the student. They excite students about academics and decrease the dropout rate.

For instance, we already have multimedia programs that graduate students with artistic, technical and communication skills. When creating a digital film, students write scripts, think logically and use math and visual skills, but it's interesting to them because they're making movies. We also have a partnership with the local police and firefighting academies.

Creating more personalization is essential. Almost all of our high schools have at least 3,600 students. Each school should be divided into smaller groups of 500 students or less so that students can be treated as individuals with aspirations and goals. A good example is a student who wants to be an electrician. Electrician apprenticeships require algebra, a college prep course. Vocational training should provide the academics needed to achieve the chosen job goal.

In some of our schools there is more cosmetology being taught than algebra or chemistry, and that's not good. I'm not saying cosmetology isn't important -- after all, this is Los Angeles -- but we need to make sure our kids are in an environment that will hold their interest. That means tying academics to life.

Sometimes students say they must leave school to help their families, a legitimate problem. But if the students see the connection of education to their future earning power and personal goals, they usually stay in school.

We have committed ourselves to creating a system of public education to raise human beings who will be active, successful participants in society. It is illogical to lock our students away from the community for 13 years.

We've had an entrepreneurial movement for change by some innovative teachers, administrators and community leaders that has been quite successful. Now it is time for the revolution to become the institution.

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