Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Analysis Challenges Calif. School District’s Touted Achievements

The San Jose Unified School District set a lofty goal 11 years ago. The district announced that all students would be required to pass the classes needed to be admitted to California’s public universities.

At first, the majority-Latino school district earned accolades for its seemingly miraculous success. Other districts wanted to emulate San Jose.

But an analysis of data by The Los Angeles Times and The Hechinger Report casts doubt on the district’s much-touted achievements.

The news outlets found that the majority of the district’s students are not qualifying to attend a state university–and that the percentage of students qualifying has barely budged in all the years since the policy change.

In 2000, prior to the program’s implementation, about 40% of students met requirements to enter the University of California or California State university system. By 2011, despite the program’s implementation, only about 40.3% of students qualified.

Even worse, the analysis found that only about one out of five Latino and black students who began high school in 2007 were eligible to apply to state colleges after four years.  (During the 2011-12 school year, about 52% of the students were Latino.)

So how did it come to pass that the district was able to claim so many students were graduating that were qualified to be admitted to college? The article mentions that the number of qualified students was overestimated because the district misreported data by counting seniors who had not yet completed their college-level coursework as having done so.

Two loopholes also played a role. Students could meet requirements by earned just a “D” in their classes, even though universities required a “C.” In addition, students were allowed to transfer to alternative schools with less challenging coursework  if they were struggling in school.

Latino students, in particular, struggled. As a result, many ended up pushed out of the regular high schools and attending less-demanding alternative schools. The story notes that alternative programs enrolled about 50% more Latinos than regular high schools.

“The ethnic imbalance is ironic given that San Jose’s college-prep program grew out of concern that far too many Latino students, the largest group in the district, were not on track for college,” the article notes.

The Contra Costa Times reported that school district officials defended the program.

“We are clearly in a better place than we were,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews told the newspaper. “However, clearly, we still have a long way to go.”

The paper notes that the district places in the middle of the pack among the 11 districts in Santa Clara County, in terms of the percentage of Hispanic graduates meeting requirements for entering state universities. For the class of 2011, the percentage was 26.6%, compared to a high of 44.1% in Palo Alto Unified School District.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is moving toward new standards that will require this year’s freshmen to pass a certain number of college-prep courses with a D or better to graduate, and eventually move toward requiring a C or better for next year’s freshmen. It remains to be seen what sort of impact that may have on the district’s students, and in particular, the Latino majority.