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August 5, 2011 > Few California students are prepared for college and careers

Few California students are prepared for college and careers

Submitted By Eric Wagner

California's prosperity has long depended on the quality of its workforce, yet California's high schools are falling short when it comes to preparing students for college and career. Indeed, just three quarters of students earn a high school diploma. Among those who do, few have completed the coursework needed to provide genuine college and career options.

Recently, The Education Trust-West released a new report, "Unlocking Doors and Expanding Opportunity: Moving Beyond the Limiting Reality of College and Career Readiness in California High Schools," based on six years of work in school districts across California. The report finds that only five in ten graduates were college-ready in the districts studied and presents data finding that only one in ten graduates were both college and career-ready. Latino, African-American, and low-income students fared far worse than their more advantaged peers. The report calls for a more integrated and equitable approach to college and career preparation so that high schools serve to open doors to both college and career options for all students.

The report examines barriers to college and career readiness. It finds that many students are barred from college eligibility because of high school grading practices, poor articulation between the elementary, middle, and high school levels and the persistence of tracking students. The report reveals that many students leave high school without completing career pathways because Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses are insufficiently sequenced to foster real workplace skill development.

Furthermore, the report surfaces disturbing equity issues, demonstrating that students of color and low-income students are disproportionately tracked into less-rigorous academic courses and CTE classes, whereas their more affluent peers are more frequently tracked into college preparatory courses. Indeed, the report reveals that the opportunity to take the coursework necessary to apply for college is not offered to all students and is offered at far lower rates to Latino and African-American students.

"Districts need to make a commitment to equity in opportunity and have a responsibility to ensure that all their students are prepared to unlock all the doors in front of them, including the door to a college education if the student chooses," said Dr. Linda Murray, Superintendent-in-Residence at The Education Trust-West. "This means ensuring that students have the skills, knowledge, and coursework necessary to access college and career opportunities. And it means eliminating the systematic tracking that increases differences among groups, with low-income students and students of color receiving less rigorous coursework, leading to inferior education outcomes and fewer career opportunities."

The report highlights the potential and promise of the Linked Learning high school reform approach to address many of these problems. Linked Learning melds college and career readiness through an integrated high school curriculum that prepares students for both college and career options. However, the report highlights a number of important equity issues that must be addressed in order for Linked Learning to fulfill its promise.

"The nearly 100-year-old system of high school education is not relevant in today's world," said Dr. Tameka McGlawn, Senior Practice Associate at The Education Trust-West. "We need new models that produce graduates who are equipped to meet the demands of today's knowledge-based society with both the college-level academic preparation and the real-world skills demanded by our colleges and employers. But to ensure that result, we must be careful to offer truly equitable college and career opportunities to those students of color and low-income students who have traditionally been underserved by our education system."

The Education Trust-West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. They expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, as well as identify and advocate for the strategies that will close those gaps.

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