By Ben Atlas:
This spring, the school board is on schedule to discuss and enact policies that will make A-G requirements, needed for admission to a University of California (UC), mandatory for graduates. This policy would add two lab sciences and math up to Algebra 2 to the current graduation requirements. According to the school board, 82 percent of Gunn graduates already fulfill them, but a disproportionate amount of the remaining 18 percent are underrepresented minorities, a fact that is fueling efforts to bridge this disparity.
According to School Board President Melissa Caswell, the proposed policy does not currently have full support from the staff. “There are some teachers who feel the Algebra 2 requirement is very challenging, but I am confident that our teachers will come up with a solution,” Caswell said. She also professed optimism regarding chances of eventual passage. “It feels like we have a very heavy majority of community members supporting it,” Caswell said. “I am optimistic that, within five years, we’ll have this in place.”
[pullquote]“We want to give our students the most opportunities they can have. We want to close our achievement gap.” School Board President Melissa Caswell said.[/pullquote]
According to Caswell, driving this change is the disparity between minorities and non-minorities in fulfilling A-G requirements. “We want to give our students the most opportunities they can have,” Caswell said. “We want to close our achievement gap.”
This gap has attracted attention from the Parent Network for Students of Color (PNSC), which has been a vocal advocate for the policy thus far. “We have had a standing goal for many years to close our achievement gap, with limited improvement over the years,” co-chair of the PNSC Sara Woodham Johnsson said. According to Woodham, the A-G requirement eliminates confusion about standards that students should have for succeeding in life beyond high school (according to the board, all but 170 Gunn students met that requirement last year). It is also a measure of accountability for the district when setting course offerings, course content at the lowest lanes, teaching practices and student support.
However, critics worry that A-G requirements will spur more dropouts and lower the overall graduation rate. Additionally, critics believe teachers will dilute their coursework and make the curricula too easy. The solution, as Woodham wrote in an email, would entail “a clear pathway to A-G compliance with courses in the lowest lanes that meet but not exceed standards, support for teachers to effect great teaching to the students who need it the most and support for students who struggle.”
Guidance Counseler Lisa Kaye agrees that there are potential issues. “Even though it seems straightforward, there are a lot of dimensions to such a policy,” she said. “An overall review of current graduation requirements may be needed to re-evaluate how the A-G courses will be added. There’s the potential for it to create stress and worry if the requirements are added on without a review of existing requirements.”
According to math teacher Danny Hahn, by definition, a requirement being added would initially mean that more students would not meet those requirements. It’s to be expected that more work will be needed on the part of the district and the teachers to help students meet the higher expectations.
Principal Katya Villalobos is optimistic about the policy’s chances for when it is debated this spring. “It’s very doable; we have resources, an incredible teaching staff and an academic-centered mindset at both [Gunn and Palo Alto High School],” Villalobos said.
Proponents of adding A-G requirements are hopeful that the policy will help close the achievement gap and provide more opportunities for students after graduation. “I want to ensure that all students have the support they need to do whatever they aspire to after graduating,” Villalobos said.