San Diego Unified’s graduation rate reached 91.2 percent this year, including significant improvements in the graduation rate of blacks and Latinos.
In the 1980s, Jaime Escalante, a math teacher portrayed in the movie “Stand and Deliver,” taught calculus at a working-class, largely Latino high school in East Los Angeles. When his students passed the AP Calculus tests, there was an immediate accusation that they had cheated. How could “those kids” possibly succeed? Well, they did.
When Richard Barrera and I came onto the San Diego Unified School District board of trustees in 2008, we not only wanted to improve the graduation rate, we also wanted to make graduation more meaningful. In 2011, when we approved moving toward the more rigorous A-G course requirements as part of Vision 2020, one talk radio host proclaimed that we would be unleashing hundreds of high school dropouts onto the streets. Well, “those kids” of the class of 2016 proved the naysayers wrong. Higher expectations, along with proper support, produce higher results.
So how is high school changing in San Diego Unified? First, we are providing more relevant courses to engage students and prepare them for the future. Students can take courses and internships in engineering, health care, business, information technology, culinary arts, automotive technology, broadcasting and much more. This is alongside standard college-prep courses and music, the arts and athletics. This is not your father’s high school. Engaged students stay in school and go on to succeed.
We are working with our teachers to have high expectations for all of our students, regardless of background, through our work with the National Equity Project. We now carefully monitor each student’s individual progress to make sure he or she is on track to graduate. We have scrapped the old credit recovery courses that led to a meaningless diploma and have replaced them with online courses approved by the University of California. Online courses are also available for our high-performing students who want to accelerate their learning. We are collaborating with our local colleges to expose students to university-level work before they graduate from high school.
How could “those kids” succeed? Is someone cooking the books? Here are a few of the alleged problems: