February 18, 2000
by John de Beck
If the community became irate when they learned of the Charger ticket guarantee, they should at least be upset as they get the details of the San Diego City schools pending plan for social promotion. Sporting a sexy title, "Blueprint for Success in a Standards Based System," the proposal carries a yet to be completely funded budget estimated to be in excess of $70 million and continues social promotion as a district practice.
As some may remember, the City Schools has a problem with its policy on retention for 8th graders that Superintendent Alan Bersin admitted was a "disaster." What happened was that some students who had failed to meet standards were promoted, and others who had similar records were held back.
In embarrassment the board majority rescinded the policy on the Superintendents recommendation and did not change the student placement. Instead it banked on Chancellor Anthony Alvarado and his "vision" which was unveiled as an unclear and unfunded "Blueprint" in recent weeks.
So what does the new Blueprint do for 8th graders? It promotes them carte blanche and calls for the high schools to do massive amounts of remedial work in the 9th grade. This practice is similar to the graduation of students unprepared for college that is so condemned by university professors. And it creates a major problem with high school class schedules. In fact, it puts these students in double and triple period reading courses, and eliminates time for electives. Euphemistically entitled "Genre Studies," this remediation program keeps kids from taking the usual 9th grade courses and precludes 50% of the average students from graduating on time. (The first two quartiles include 50% of students that get C grades).
Clouding all this further, the staffing of high schools with massive numbers of reading specialists will require the layoff of highly qualified experienced elective teachers in a time when there is a teacher shortage. While every elective teacher I know teaches their subject's specialized vocabulary and requires reading of texts and supplemental materials as a part of class work, they will not be able to keep their jobs if they do not have English credentials. And where will their replacements come from? Because they are in short supply, many of their replacements will have emergency credentials.
When you think about forcing students to meet standards and placing them in three hours of the stuff they didn't get the first time, you had better understand that it is best done before they have the option to drop out. Interventions are better in the early years, when kids respect teachers and don't place them in the same category as other "bossy adults."
The original problem was what to do for kids that could not meet grade level standards, and the solution will be to strain the system financially with massive redirection of resources at the same time eliminating many elective choices for high school students as well as cutting student services.
If the cure is worse than the disease, perhaps the cure needs reconsideration. Put the interventions in elementary and middle schools where kids are less likely to drop out, but don't socially promote kids to high school that aren't ready.
What is proposed now is a recipe for yet another educational disaster... not a Blueprint for Success!
(John de Beck is a Trustee of the San Diego Unified Schools Board of Education).