I've learned a lot about public education since leaving General Electric. It's been an interesting journey through the teacher credentialing process, teaching at different schools, and then becoming a member of the LUSD Board of Education.
One of the things I learned is that the processes of public education are deeply entrenched. I have often heard those in charge justifying their position by stating how long they had been in education. I heard things like, "I've been in education for over 30 years, and ..." believing that statement gave them more credibility. Fact is, longevity does not equal expertise, nor does it validate one's position.
I point this out because to get those decision makers to look at education in a different manner is almost impossible. This is especially true when addressing the goals of public education.
In my last article, I stated that the goal of public education should be to prepare students for life after high school. That goal seems obvious to me. It seems obvious that we want our children to exit their primary schooling equipped with the tools for their next step in life, whatever that step might be.
But that goal cannot be realized under our current system that mandates standards based on the desire for all students to attend college. I am continuously frustrated by the entrenched "experts" who develop our education policy and who cannot or will not grasp the concept that not all students will go to college.
Take a look at the facts:
Only 70 percent of students entering high school will graduate. Of those who graduate, only 65 percent go on to college. That means that for every 100 freshman entering high school, about 45 go on to college. And of that 45, about 55 percent, only 25, will obtain a bachelor's degree within 6 years. So if the goal of public education is to produce college graduates, we have fallen way short.
The problem starts with the "one size fits all" attitude that dominates public education. The "one size," of course, is for students to be college-bound. This is currently the true goal of public education, and is supported by our standards-based system.
If there is any doubt in your mind, go to the California Department of Education website, see which courses are required, and then look at the standards for those courses. You find required math standards like, "Students use the quadratic formula or factoring techniques or both to determine whether the graph of a quadratic function will intersect the x-axis in zero, one, or two points."
What you won't find on that website or in the standards for required subjects are things like, "Students will determine the true cost of borrowing money," or, "Students will compute tax savings achieved through pre-tax investments." There are standards for Career and Technical Education courses, but those classes are not required.
Please understand that what I am proposing is tantamount to educational blasphemy. The education community will write this off as "tracking," the practice of dividing students into college and non-college bound tracks. This was a common practice when I was high school, but now is seen as completely politically incorrect because of the fear that it will divide students along racial lines. You will also hear opponents scream about lowering standards, or hear them hide behind the old mantra that "all kids deserve a college education." Let's look at these one at a time.
To start with, yes, all kids deserve a college education. No argument here. The question is, do all kids want a college education? Looking at the statistics, the answer is obviously no. Let's face it: Some people do not want to go to college. Whatever their reason is, it's their choice.
Secondly, I am not calling for a lowering of standards; I am calling for a change in the focus of required standards. We can still keep the standards we have for those that need particular classes as they prepare for college. We can even raise those standards and better prepare our students that are bound for a CSU or UC school.
Finally, the argument that really gets me is the one about race. Those who put forth this objection assert that some minorities would be disproportionally represented in the classes that did not meet CSU or UC requirements. The point I make against this argument is that if you're worried about groups being disproportionally represented, then you should begin by looking at the graduation rate for minorities.
As I said earlier, the national graduation rate is about 70 percent overall, but that same rate for African American and Hispanic students is only 57 percent. That's the disproportion we need to focus on. Our current strategy only adds to this problem by forcing students to take courses and meet standards for which they are not academically prepared.
If we can graduate more students, prepared for life's next step, we will in fact be preparing more students for college. We will also be preparing more students for trade school and the workplace with the skills they need to be successful in life. Our job in public education is not to just prepare students for the UCs and CSUs; it's to prepare our students for life's next step, whatever that might be.
Lodi Unified School District trustee George Neely is a former military officer, General Electric executive and public school teacher.