A student ponders an algebra problem. (Los Angeles Times )
The call to lower graduation standards in the Los Angeles Unified School District reminds me of a conversation I had with a representative of the construction industry seven years ago, back when the school board was first considering requiring all students to take the full series of college-preparatory classes in order to earn a diploma.
His group favored the switch to a college-prep requirement because the sequence of courses known as "A through G" would also prepare students better for jobs that don't require a college degree. Precious few of L.A. Unified's graduates could pass the written test for his group's apprenticeship program in construction because they lacked the math skills.
I asked him what was required to pass that test, and he said Algebra I and some Geometry. That was curious because those courses already were required for a high school diploma in L.A. Unified; the college-prep requirement added a third year of high school math to that, Algebra II.
When told that the students already had to pass the two courses he had mentioned to graduate, he at first refused to believe that was true. Then he said that although the students might be taking the courses, they sure weren't learning the material.
There's the rub. The schools and the state can set all the requirements they want, but until we pay attention to whether students are actually learning what they need to learn rather than filling a seat in a class that meets a certain requirement, we will continue the frustrating reality of high school graduates who theoretically qualify for college but have to take remedial courses once they get there, and who cannot pass a basic test to drive a delivery truck or work on a construction site.
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