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Steve Hansen Lodi Unified School District leaders see the light on college prep

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Steve Hansen

Posted: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:39 am, Wed Nov 16, 2011.

"No new idea in education lasts more than two years," a University of the Pacific professor once told me. His length of time (more like five years rather than two) may have been off, but his premise was absolutely correct.

So goes the idea that all high school kids should take college-prep classes. Those of us working in the trenches saw this as a bad idea from the beginning. But the world of education is not a democracy. Curriculum polices are decreed on high by state legislators and others in authority. Rarely are those on the assembly line, working with the day-to-day realities, consulted. Thus, like the old Soviet Union, policies are usually doomed to fail. This has been going on nationally since education "reforms" first began in 1957.

Shortly before I left the system, I got a call from an angry parent who accused me of placing her child in the wrong class.

"He should be in college-prep," she complained. "You put him in remedial."

"No, ma'am," I corrected her. "He is properly placed in 'college-prep' English."

"That's impossible!" she retorted. "There are kids in there who can barely write their own names."

"Welcome to the world of modern public education," I said.

Another example of a bureaucratic misstep was the setting of benchmarks of progress by those in the State Department of Education, designed to please their legislator bosses.

Back in the 1990s, I attended a meeting led by a state department representative. Her message was this: "We expect our goal to be reached that 90 percent of your students will be in at least the 50th percentile on standardized testing."

Those of us in the audience who knew something about mathematics had to quietly laugh. It is statistically impossible to have 90 percent of a large sample of heterogeneous students in the 50th percentile. Needless to say, that goal was never achieved.

What's even more ironic is that even if the objective of "all kids should go to college" were achieved, it would create a lot of overqualified people for jobs that don't exist. With the exception of a few specific occupations such as in technology, science and health care, there are no shortages of college graduate positions.

The paper is not full of ads stating, "Wanted: philosophy, ethnic studies, women's issues and other liberal arts majors for exciting careers. Six-figure starting salaries await you."

Over-stimulating the college-education-required job market with thousands of applicants only LOWERS salaries and standards of living. It does not raise them.

On the other hand, the shortage of HIGHLY SKILLED contractors, small retail business owners, carpenters, mechanics, machinists, plumbers, cabinet-makers, heating/air conditioning experts, service workers and even truck drivers is an issue, especially as the economy recovers. Many of these occupations provide a higher income than those earned by college graduates. These people can always make independent livings, as their training is not limited to government-created occupations.

I'm glad that the leaders of the Lodi Unified School District have seen the light and decided that reality cannot be ignored. In the past, it pained me greatly to watch many good kids fail because the system saw its own goals of idealism as far more important than meeting individual student academic needs.

The damage done to the self-esteem of some of our kids, who sit in algebra classes day after day and year after year, must be irreparable. Some of them don't know how to make change for a quarter and can't show you three-eighths of an inch on a ruler.

I just hope our state and federal legislators get the message as well.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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