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LAUSD board weighs options as college prep policy threatens graduations

The LAUSD school board approved a new teachers contract that will create a multimillion-dollar deficit for the district.
The Los Angeles Unified school board is scrambling for a fix to a policy that threatens to derail graduation for students starting with the Class of 2017.

Los Angeles Unified's school board members are considering more help for struggling students and modifying requirements to pass classes as it deals with a policy that could trip up would-be graduates.

L.A. Unified’s move 10 years ago to require all high school graduates starting with the class of 2017 to complete courses for college entry has come back to haunt the district. The policy may keep thousands of students from graduating on time, and that has the school district scrambling for a fix.

The policy was devised to address a college preparation crisis in schools with mostly lower income, Latino, and black students, said Maria Brenes with InnerCity Struggle, a youth and community advocacy group.

At some campuses, only one out of 12 students graduated high school with the classes needed to enter the University of California or Cal State systems. 

“Yet when we talked to hundreds of students about their hopes and their dreams, a majority were telling us that they wanted to go to college after high school," she said.

Additionally, a study last year found many Latino students with high achievement scores settled for community college enrollments rather than four-year universities.

The LAUSD policy called A through G requires 15 high school classes, electives included, to enable students to gain university admission. The policy mandates that current 10th graders earn at least a C in each of the classes to earn a high school diploma.

But LAUSD says three-fourths of these 10th graders will likely fall short. Board member Monica Ratliff said it’s not realistic to enforce the policy as is.

“Of course, I don’t want our graduation rates to plummet but this isn’t about that. This is about the idea that we’re going to deny students diplomas because they received one D in one A through G course. To me, that’s outrageous,” Ratliff told KPCC's AirTalk.

She said one option is to require a C average for all of the required classes.

While there have been suggestions that the college prep policy sets the bar too high, board member Steve Zimmer said the problem isn’t the policy’s higher expectations. He said it’s that the recession forced the district to lay off teachers and counselors, leaving many student unprepared for the more rigorous requirements.

Zimmer is proposing a board resolution next week to study the types of help students will need to pass the required classes.

“I think we need $5 million immediately and it’s going to be my recommendation to use funds from the May Revise to make sure we get those out to school,” he said.

The May Revise is Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget, due out next week, that is expected to include millions more for California school districts. The funds could pay for remedial classes and courses to help students get ahead.

But LAUSD will need more than that — Zimmer didn’t say how much more — to help students meet all of the A through G requirements.

UCLA education scholar John Rogers says L.A. Unified is scrambling to fix the A through G policy now because board members will soon be picking a replacement for interim superintendent Ramon Cortines.

“It’s imperative for the district to establish a plan for where it wants to move so that the new superintendent comes in and, in fact, is selected under a set of criteria that says, ‘Here’s where we want to go, here’s our goals as a district,’” he said.

It’ll be up to the LAUSD school board to set those goals, and approve the funds needed to get students through their classes and out the door.