Sacramento under pressure to lower school standards
From a world-class to a lower-class education
After spending eight years in the state Legislature, I can tell you that here in Sacramento, there’s no shortage of good intentions. But what we are lacking is a track record of good results.
I’ve had the great pleasure in recent weeks of meeting with a number of African American groups and media outlets, including a recent meeting of the nonpartisan African American Superintendent’s Association. At that meeting of dedicated education professionals, there was a sharing of ideas about how to close the school achievement gap that clearly exists between African Americans and students of other minority groups. The common thread of the discussion was the crystal-clear need for better results when African American children are at school.
A high point of the meeting was a speech given by newly elected Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. She stressed the need for more accountability from public school faculty and staff, higher graduation rates for African American students, and their desperate need for more educational opportunities. Weber also made it clear she’s heard enough excuses from those who keep trying to pretend that the school system we have now is working for African American kids.
Assemblywoman Weber closed her speech with the point that all of us, children, teachers, administrators and parents will strive to meet the level of expectation that’s set for us. I agree with her with all my heart, and that’s why we must refocus our school reform efforts on meeting results, and not just on good intentions.
While $70 billion is spent on education per year in California, you would never know it based on the results. Only 62 percent of African American high school students graduate. Only 38 percent of male African American students graduate from college. If we issued letter grades to our high schools and universities, that’s a failing grade stacked on top of another failing grade. It is not a record of which to be proud.
What’s badly needed is a new set of objective standards for our schools and local leaders. Teachers and students deserve motivating and challenging schools that set high standards and support them in reaching those goals. But instead, the mood here in Sacramento is to do just the opposite, to make excuses and to lower, not raise our education standards.
Instead of tackling the root problem, Sacramento policymakers are often overcome by pressure from union lobbyists to simply lower school standards and redefine success. A case in point is the recent decision by the California State Board of Education to lower state math standards so that students don’t have to take algebra until the ninth grade.
Studies show that mastering algebra in the eighth-grade is the single best indicator that a student will graduate from college. So doesn’t it make sense to get more children taking algebra early?
The greatest gift of learning comes when a student realizes that he or she is capable of greater achievements than they thought they could reach. That’s the lesson that will lead them to greater and greater accomplishments throughout life. Sure, every child is different, and some kids may have to take algebra a couple of times to get it. But there shouldn’t be any shame in sticking with something until you master it. Sometimes a good healthy push is just what the doctor ordered. That’s a valuable life lesson our kids deserve to learn too.
As Senate Republican Leader, I’m going to keep pushing for policies to make sure every child in California has the opportunity for a world-class education. And that process starts with holding adults accountable for what goes on in the classroom.
Bob Huff serves as the Senate Republican Leader in the California State Senate. Born in Calexico, Huff grew up on his family’s farm in the Imperial Valley. Most of his professional and business experience has been in the agricultural industry. Sen. Huff and his wife, Mei Mei, have three sons, a daughter and five grandchildren.
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High stakes test question: A female science student conducts an experiment with chemicals that explode in a classroom, cause no damage and no injuries. Who gets to be the adventurous teenage genius mad scientist and who gets to be the criminal led away in handcuffs facing two felonies to juvenile hall?
African American students achieve at a different level than White students. Test scores are lower, as are high school and college completion rates, and the number of African Americans attending four-year institutions is falling. The rate of African American suspensions and expulsions from K-12 schools is higher than that of other groups. By almost any metric, there are gaps between African American students and White or Asian students (Latinos achieve at about the same rate as African Americans).
Sitting in the sparsely filled auditorium of Gardena High School in Los Angeles at the beginning of an annual senior awards ceremony, I looked around, and wondered; where the hell are the Black parents? I was attending the ceremony to see students from my Women’s Leadership Project program—the majority of whom are African American and en route to four-year colleges—receive much-deserved awards for service and academic achievement.
On Thursday, July 27, 2012, in one of the very few programs the Obama administration has specifically targeted and titled for Black Americans, President Obama issued an executive order creating the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, which will be housed in the secretary of education’s office.
It creates a new executive director of Black education, a new President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and an interagency collaboration of staff from different departments.
The vast majority of African American college-going students in this state go to California’s Community Colleges—still one of the truly great bargains in America. That being said, there are plenty of current problems in the process.