by Justin Dante
Staff Writer-The Santa Rosan
The Santa Rosa City School district has recently been campaigning for a noble, albeit, idealistic policy a policy that would allow all students to graduate eligible for college admission. The district, headed by superintendent Socorro Shiels, had originally planned on getting rid of all non-college preparatory classes and requiring students to complete A-G courses for a diploma. (A-G refers to the high school courses required for entrance into a UC/CSU. There are seven general subject areas labeled “A” through “G”, hence the name). While this certainly seems productive at a glance, the district has run into stout opposition from teachers and counselors. It has since, backed down from its initial position, but the A-G policy is still a hotly debated issue.
In a recent article published in the Press Democrat, Jenni Klose, a member of the school board and avid supporter of mandatory A-G, lampooned the counseling staff for participating in what she called “institutional racism.” Her uninformed and rather offensive article is just one example of how a misconception that counselors are artificially holding back minorities – has been perpetuated by a handful of individuals whose advocacy for the new A-G policy is well known. In her article, Klose claims that counselors have been pre-judging students and not allowing them to enroll in higher level classes. This is blatantly untrue.
High school counselors meet with each of their students individually and make recommendations based upon past performance. This entails meetings in which the counselors review student grades, transcripts, teacher recommendations, standardized test scores, and course selections. It is true that a counselor wouldn’t advise a student who failed regular English last year to try AP English this year. But that’s hardly racism; it’s logic. And even still, students can bypass their counselors and take whichever class they want with a course request form signed by a parent. So how is it that so-called racist counselors are holding students back against their will?
“I provided Shiels with a plethora of documentation showing clear evidence of communication with students and parents about graduation and college requirements. Of course, after I sent her these documents, she stopped communicating with me,” said Seth Geffner, a Santa Rosa High School counselor of 11 years.
Shiel’s reasoning behind this interaction is unclear, although she has recently begun an open dialogue with teachers.The A-G issue has been brought to the forefront of discussion ever since Klose’s inflammatory article, in which she criticizes schools like SRHS and champions the likes of Roseland University Prep (RUP).
RUP was the one of the first schools to institute an A-G curriculum for all of its students and has often been praised for its high college admission rates. The logic seems reasonable; more students are going to college with mandatory A-G courses which must mean it’s effective. However, there’s a catch. Data collected by the California State University system reveals that many college freshmen from RUP are utterly unprepared, despite their impressive resumes.
In 2011, only 38% of RUP graduates passed the Entry Level Math Test (ELM) and only 23% passed the English Placement Test (EPT). In 2012, 42% passed the ELM and 8% passed the EPT. The students who failed were forced to take remedial classes at junior colleges, such as SRJC, and even then, (according to counseling professionals) they struggled.
In contrast, 93% of Santa Rosa High School graduates passed the ELM and 97% passed the EPT in 2013. The trend is obvious and glaring, and yet the district seems to be disregarding it.
At the moment, Santa Rosa High School is the last school in the district that offers remedial classes at the 9th and 10th grade levels, and if this policy is adopted, both incoming and current students will suffer for it. By placing students without the necessary skills (and sometimes desire) to succeed in college-prep classes teachers will be caught in a terrible position. Either they will have to fail many of their students or they will have to “water-down” their class rigor, and therefore send unprepared students to colleges in which they cannot succeed.
“A-G is the latest silver bullet latched on to by education reformers to solve the issue of equality of opportunity that disregards the experience and advice of people in the classroom who actually teach,” said Andy Brennan, a government teacher and former president of the Santa Rosa Teachers’ Association.
It is clear that a “one-size fits all” solution isn’t going to help anyone. And with a college dropout rate of nearly 50% nationwide, the conformity of this watered down curriculum isn’t going to improve students’ prospects. But Klose, and people like her, will continue to paint the disparity between some students’ chosen courses and others as the construct of a racist school system that needs to be amended. All the while they ignore the real source of disparity – socioeconomic disadvantage.