There appeared to be reason to celebrate this year for San Diego Unified.

The district had the lowest dropout rate and second-highest graduation rate among large urban school districts in California. Earlier this school year, the district was even a finalist for the coveted Broad Prize for urban education.

Parents in the district may be familiar with those accolades, because school board members like to remind them. But the number of students who are prepared for college when they graduate paints a more concerning picture.

Starting about six years ago, the school board faced a growing chorus of discontent from voices like the American Civil Liberties Union, which pointed out that thousands of students were graduating from San Diego Unified high schools without the classes they’d need to get into college.

The school board in 2011 voted to require all students to take classes they’d need to get accepted into the University of California and California State University systems. The goal was to ensure all students had access to a challenging curriculum.

These A-G classes, as they’re called, are sequential, and include 15 yearlong high school courses in various subjects. Students need to earn a C or better in these classes to have them count.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

For many schools, the necessary courses – science, foreign language, math, visual and performing arts – weren’t radically different from what they’d previously offered. But the requirements were beefed up in other ways. Students would need two years of the same foreign language, for example.

It was an ambitious goal, and the district would need some time to adjust. So the board set a deadline: Starting in 2016, successful completion of A-G courses would be a requirement for graduation.

But now, two years away from that mark, and the district is a long way from getting there.

Numbers from 2013 – the most recent data available – show fewer than half the students in the district would be eligible to graduate under the upcoming standards. And the numbers are worse for black and Latino students.


More alarming is that number isn’t expected to improve much – only 5 percent next year and 10 percent the year after that, according the district.

That means about 3,600 students would be at risk of failing to graduate in 2016, and another 3,420 in 2017.

“You’re going to be leaving a lot of kids behind. And that’s just not acceptable,” said Amy Redding, who leads a district-level advisory group and is running for school board.

Redding, along with the district and advisory groups, helped create the Local Control Accountability Plan – a blueprint for how the district will spend the pot of money Gov. Jerry Brown is handing to school district – which was finalized this week.

Redding said that if the district plans to equip students for post-graduation studies, it needs to ensure everyone has access to A-G classes. And that starts earlier than high school.

“We need to have this conversation, and we need to have it now. It’s not going to help to have this conversation when the 2016 school year starts,” she said.

Students can take foreign language or math credits in middle school, for example, that will count toward their high school graduation requirements. But first, all middle schools need to offer those classes – and have teachers who can lead them.

Beyond that, Redding said it’s a matter of planning. If students don’t meet with their counselors in the freshman year of high school to create a four-year graduation plan, they might struggle to take and pass the courses they need for graduation.

That’s why she’d like to see a six-year plan starting in middle school, with enough counselors at that level to meet the demand.

Currently, the LCAP doesn’t address any of those specifics, how much the additional staffing would cost to implement this.

A district spokesman said that the LCAP is a living document that will change over time, but Redding and other parents said at this week’s school board meeting that the plan lacked details for how, exactly, the district will meet students’ needs.

At this point, what’s to blame for the fact that so many students are falling short – whether it’s a matter of students not having access to required courses, or a matter of them passing – is a question for the district.

So is the district’s plan to meet its own 2016 mandate.

“There’s a disconnect between what’s said at the district and what occurs at the school,” said Redding. “This is one of the biggest failings of the district. We make great plans and have great ideas, but the follow through just falls flat.”

Correction: A previous version of this story used an improper calculation, and misrepresented the number of students at risk of failing to graduate in 2016. The district estimates the number will be about 3,600 students.

    This article relates to: Corrections, Education, News, School Performance, Share

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email:

    DistrictDeeds wordpress com
    DistrictDeeds wordpress com subscriber

    "The Truth About San Diego Unified's Graduation Rate" is that the SDUSD hierarchy, Superintendent Marten and the Board, use it as a Public Relations ploy while they take actions that undermine it in practice.

    For example:

    What would a Teacher, Parent, or any school site community member do with a school that has wide cultural diversity and over 50% free and reduced lunch but not only is ranked in the top 200 High Schools in the United States but graduated 99.9% of its 2014 graduating class?

    Have a pep rally celebrating it's success?

    Volunteer and contribute more time at the school?

    Collaborate even more with your teaching peers and the administration to make it even better?

    Well, the solution that Superintendent Marten with the assistance of the Board of Education  took was to GET RID OF THE PRINCIPAL THAT LED THE EFFORT for the last 7 years!

    In a secret session Marten and her cronies on the Board "Reassigned" (read: got rid of) Principal Mitzi Lizarraga at SCPA with virtually NO school community support.  As proof of the school site community support of Principal Lizarraga, see the on line petition (over 300 signatures) and comments from Parents, Teachers, Students, Alumni and Community Members evidence at:

    If the real purpose of kids going to school is to be sure they gain a well rounded education and GRADUATE, there is no way that the removal of the principal at a school that is the BEST EXAMPLE IN THE SDUSD of that purpose can be justified.

    This example proves that Graduation Rates are just another talking point with no meaning by this Superintendent and Board.

    francesca subscriber

    @District Deeds  This makes no sense, getting rid of successful principals, while promoting principals from underperforming schools, like Marshall and Edison...

    There must be more to this story at SCPA...Mission Bay, too, since his A-G percentages were so good..

    I'm sure Mario Koran will get right on this and explain what is happening..

    Dennis subscriber

    Okay Ms./Mrs. Redding?

    What is the LCAP plan for students who do not desire or will not have the skills to go to college?

    I agree we need an A-G plan, but we also need a plan for those who will not or cannot follow through on the A-G plan.

    Again, can the district stop pretending every student will attend college and provide courses of study/training that will help them succeed after graduating?

    Amy Redding
    Amy Redding subscribermember

    @Dennis The LCAP does address Career Technical Education.  It talks about developing a criteria for completing a CTE course sequence.  CTE is also called out in the LCAP under the Broad and Challenging Curriculum section.  The district is devoting  resources to Career Technical Education in the LCAP.

    The CTE program in San Diego Unified is one of our hidden jems.  We should be talking about these programs with students and parents starting in middle school or sooner.  The beauty of many of the CTE courses is that they are also A-G approved.  This allows students the opportunity to explore career options while still making progress on A-G.  The district has put a lot of effort into this and for the sole purpose of serving the needs of all students.

    Amy Redding
    Amy Redding subscribermember

    During the LCAP process and in the work group, I did bring up my concerns multiple times about students meeting A-G.I talked about my concerns of an achievement gap starting in seventh grade with regards to A-G access and enrollment.I also recommended that each school site report its A-G progress as part of the LCAP.I advocated for students to have 6 year plans instead of 4 year plans as middle school students can start taking A-G classes in seventh grade.I was quite vocal about this and other things.

    Just so the public knows being a district advisory leader doesn’t come with the power to overrule the district or the school board.Advisory leaders are just that advisory.We are very fortunate in our positions to have access to vast amounts of information, so that we can make educated recommendations to the district and the board, but in the end they make the decisions.

    That is why I decided to run for school board.

    Amy Redding
    Amy Redding subscribermember

    I should probably make my view a bit clearer. In the work group, the A-G progress was something to address, but wasn't as urgent as other items. By the time I saw A-G in the context of the board LCAP draft, it looked more like a fire hence the larger response to the board draft.

    To solve the A-G graduation issue, it will take an analysis of the extent of the problem, designing solutions based on the analysis, and implementing with constant feedback from sites. This serious issue can become a big success for our students and for the district.

    Amy Redding
    Amy Redding subscribermember

    I am happy to elaborate on the process from my end, District Deeds. It wasn’t until I saw the board draft LCAP with the data included that I realized there was an A-G graduation problem.I did bring up the problem during the first reading of the LCAP at the June 10th board meeting and I reminded the district and board about my concerns again during the final reading at the June 24th board meeting.

    With regard to the LCAP planning meetings, the working LCAP drafts presented to the work group did not include data.Data was presented at the first meeting of the work group, but was not part of the 2 subsequent meetings where the drafts were actually discussed. Until there was pressure from some members of the work group and other outside groups, the data and the LCAP were not seen together in one document.It would have been much easier to see connections if the plan and the data had been together in one document from the start.It is a lesson learned on this initial LCAP process.

    continues onto next post

    DistrictDeeds wordpress com
    DistrictDeeds wordpress com subscriber

    Please help me understand...

    1. "Redding along with the District and advisory groups, helped create the Local Control Accountability Plan"

    2. "Redding and other parents said at this week’s school board meeting that the plan lacked details for how, exactly, the district will meet students’ needs."

    So if Redding and other district advisory groups helped CREATE the current LCAP plan, WHY DIDN'T THEY PUT THE A-G ACCESS AND REQUIREMENTS IN IT?

    If they were BLOCKED by the District from putting it in the LCAP, they should let us know but I did not see Redding or the author mention that in the article.

    If they just did not address it in the many planning meetings as "district advisory groups" , as important as Redding and other parents believe it is based on their comment to the board,  WHY WERE THEY EVEN THERE?

    I do completely agree that, after reading the LCAP, it is filled with vague "District-Speak" that can be interpreted pretty much any way the SDUSD feels is most expedient to the Superintendent and Board supposed "Vision".  But again, since Redding and Advisory Groups were in the meeting, WHY DID THEY ALLOW IT TO HAPPEN?

    Finally: "“We need to have this conversation, and we need to have it now. It’s not going to help to have this conversation when the 2016 school year starts,” she (Redding) said. just finished months of "conversations" in the LCAP creation meetings and never brought it up, .I am not sure...or confident...that any more "conversations" in the format that the District defines is going to do much good given these recent results..

    James Wilson
    James Wilson subscriber

    Mario, just because the Board decided to push a college for all agenda doesn't make it right. Nationally, thirty percent of high school students go on to graduate from college. In an urban school district like San Diego, it is far less. Thus, having a completely impossible goal makes no sense. Worse, it will drive the dropout rate much higher. And it will drive a watering down of the curriculum. Half the kids are below average intelligence. There is nothing the Board can do to change hat reality. Just because the Board members have college degrees doesn't mean that is possible for all kids. And when you require all of these elitist courses, it takes time away from carer technical education. When students don't take a sequence of career technical education courses, they don't have the skills to get a decent job. This increases gangs and crime. 

    -P subscriber

    @James Wilson While I certainly agree that there is room for, and a need for, more technical training classes, I'm not sure which part of the A - G sequence you think is elitist?  3 years of math? 2 years of history? For most high schools, the A-G sequence is less than half of the course load. OTOH, I also think that if there were more technical training classes, the drop out rate would be much lower.

    James Wilson
    James Wilson subscriber

    @-P @James Wilson You are quite right about the impact of career technical education on reducing the dropout rate. You may not know that the district includes the GED and excludes special education students in their dropout formula. This misleads anyone from looking at the real rate.

    A-G courses are by definition University of California entrance requirements and since the Master Plan for California  desires only the top ten percent of high school students to attend the University of California system, I think we can agree that they are elitist. However, I will go further and specify Algebra, Geometry and Algebra II are unnecessary and too difficult for the bottom half of high school students. Many students find the math too abstract. Also having to take Chemistry and Biology is far too much. Alternative courses such as Consumer Math and Physical Science would be fine. In addition, all high school students really need a course in parenting. Far too many youngsters are born to young kids who have no idea how to rear them and too frequently have no spouse. And now with all of the information coming out on nutrition, a class in that area would be helpful. A last note, only twenty percent of the jobs in America require a college degree.  

    -P subscriber

    @James Wilson I'm not sure I would call any education elitist, but that's another discussion. I do like you're idea about consumer math and physical science, but I should point out that I  use the things I learned in HS geometry regularly in my personal life.  Parenting & nutrition classes would be fine - the A-G sequence takes up less than half of the space in the typical HS curriculum. A nutrition class wouldn't make much sense unless you knew some elementary biology, though. An elementary bio class might prevent some of the need for the parenting classes, too.

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    The district's disconnect with the real world is shown in bright relief with this issue.  

    Only 10% of all  jobs require a college degree.  Yet the school board wants to give everyone that change to go to the UC system.  Admirable but not crucial.  

    Let's focus on making sure that the majority of students have a background that they can use to be productive adults.  The hardest jobs to fill right now are not doctors, teachers or engineers, they are in technical & service fields.  Like diesel mechanic jobs that start at $60K a year and after 4 years pay $100K-$120K+ a year.   These are jobs that are going begging right now.  

     This infatuation with a 4 year UC degree has to stop if we are going to have a functional and affordable educational system.  It may be time to get someone on the school board who represents those students who want a technical education or one of those  jobs that do not require a 4 year degree.  Let's call them the 90%'ers.  

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    I'm planning to attend "the college of musical knowledge."


    Peter Wolf/J. Geils Band

    -P subscriber

    @Matty Azure Going to a Conservatory? Cool. Which one? Curtiss? Julliard? New England?

    James Weber
    James Weber subscriber

    Another example of the union's war on children.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @James Weber Is using Nathaniel Henry's mug shot as your avatar some far right meme?  Must be part of your war on black people.

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    Nothing here folks, please keep moving along! The teachers tell me all is well.

    -P subscriber

    About 18 months ago, my daughter and I attended a presentation for H.S. juniors and their parents which had somebody from the district, the UCSD Chancellor and somebody from UCSD Admissions. When the Q&A period began, one brave student asked what should she do since her HS didn't offer and Arts courses, and 1 year of Arts is one of the UC requirements. After being flummoxed, the admissions officer timidly suggested taking a class at a community college. Needless to say, that was not a good option.

    If you are wondering why the UC's require 1 year of Arts, the story I had heard, and I don't know if it is apocryphal or not, is that, as you know, the UC's graduate very good engineers. Several years ago, however, they noticed that their recent engineering graduates weren't getting the jobs, and they wondered why. So they asked lots of companies why they were hiring people form other schools and/or countries. The answer surprised them. Seems like the UC engineers were technically very qualified, but they had a hard time "thinking outside of the box", that others were more flexible and creative. Requiring a year of Arts in HS was supposed to partially address that. 

    Dennis subscriber

    What is the plan for students who do not want to attend college?

    Are we still pretending that every student in the district wants to and will attend college?