Tuesday, May 10, 2005

High School Reform: LAO

High school reform idea focuses on preparation

State legislative analyst says college, work should be focus.

By Michael Kolber -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Evidence continues to mount that California's high schools are not preparing graduates well for college or work, but few comprehensive solutions have materialized.

Monday the Legislative Analyst's Office unveiled a potential framework for improving high schools that taps into state and federal school programs already under way.

Elizabeth Hill, the Legislature's nonpartisan analyst, said she commissioned the report because she was frustrated that significant gains had not been made in high school student achievement or reducing dropout rates.

Paul Warren, the researcher who conducted the study, said he concluded that high schools would improve if they focused existing reform efforts on better preparing students for college and work. "We think high schools need to be more accountable for the transition of students to adult life," Warren said.
The report is available at www.lao.ca.gov

The California State University system has a program that gives high school students an early indication of whether they are performing well enough and taking classes to prepare for college. The report recommends a similar approach in community colleges, with high schools coaching students earlier about career and community college paths.

"There's a very high dropout rate in community colleges. Kids aren't exactly sure why they're there," Warren said.

The California community college chancellor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The ideas mirror those proposed two years ago by Michael Kirst, a Stanford education professor who is a co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education. Kirst and the legislative analyst argued that community colleges should use the existing California high school standards tests to place students in college. This would better integrate high school and postsecondary programs and bolster the significance of the standardized tests, which currently have little consequence for individual students.

"High school students don't think the California Standards Test matters for anything. If they really understood it was a predictor of higher education success they might try harder on it," Kirst said Monday.

There is broad consensus that high schools need to improve. President Bush is seeking to include high schools in the strict sanctions of the No Child Left Behind education law, which currently applies only to elementary and middle schools.

California already applies those sanctions to high schools, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell has made high school reform a priority.

Warren acknowledged that the legislative analyst's proposal likely would not receive serious consideration in the Legislature until next term. He said much could be accomplished through reallocation of existing programs, although the schools might need an additional $150 million for better counseling programs.

Commentary :
A positive contribution of this report is that it recognizes that most high school students will not graduate from a 4 year college, I believe the number is 16%, it is in the report. Thus, if most will not graduate from college, a high school experience should prepare the students for entrance into the skilled job market. This recognition is an improvement over the mantra of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

It is not surprising that the Legislative Analyst's Office proposes more accountability. And, in the view of the Bee writer, has the same recommendations as Michael Kirst of PACE.

I wonder why they focus on accountability? Perhaps it is because they are accountants.
They have asked few teachers. They don't have a clue on how to fix the problem because they have not talked to the teachers.
So, they turn to prior reports, also by policy people, and they conclude there is a need for more accounting.
If they were dentists I think they would conclude that students need more dentists.

Having spent 30 + years in the schools, here are some basics.
1. Develop decent school to work transition programs. This report by the Master Plan working group was ignored.
2. Have sufficient counselors in schools. California ranks 49 out of 50 states in Counselors per student. So, students do not know why they are in school.
3. Develop smaller, village high schools.

Each of the above is verifiable by data. The state should start collecting real data about real programs. That will, of course, require the researchers to leave their offices and interact with teachers.

The Murakami letter on this blog of two days ago offers some additional practical responses.

" The fiscal reality is that California ranks 44 in per-pupil spending, 46th in pupil teacher ratio, 32 in teacher salaries and 29th. in education spending as a percentage of personal income."
That is, adequately fund the schools. We have failing high schools in large part because we fail to adequately fund the high schools and to consult with the teachers in those schools on school improvement.
The legislature and the governor will repeat this process of inadequately funding the schools in June and July.
Where is the accountability for elected representatives?

Duane Campbell
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