Guess What? Pretending That Everyone Should Go to College Turns Out Not to Work

| Wed Apr. 18, 2012 10:45 AM EDT

Several years ago the Los Angeles Unified School District decided that every high school student should take and pass college prep classes in order to graduate. Most infamously this included an algebra requirement, but it was much broader than just that. Would this produce more dropouts? Sure, but everyone was told we'd just have to bite the bullet and accept that.

Well, it's now bullet-biting time as the new requirements finally take effect, and guess what? Bullets aren't really all that tasty:

On Tuesday, district officials backtracked, offering details of a proposal to reduce overall graduation requirements and allow students to pass those classes with a D grade. They must change course, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said, or they would open the doors to scores of dropouts and others who can't pass the more rigorous requirements. The new plan, which still must be approved by the board, would allow students to graduate with 25% fewer credits.

"If we don't do something, we have to be prepared to be pushing out kids as dropouts," said Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino at a school-board committee meeting Tuesday. "We face a massive dropout rate in four years."

The idea, apparently, is that by requiring fewer credits, struggling kids will have more opportunity to repeat classes that they failed the first time around. That doesn't sound like much of a plan to make staying in high school more attractive.

I know this is an argument that's been played out thousands of times in hundreds of places already, but it just seems crazy to me. Encouraging everyone to take college prep classes is fine, but college prep just isn't the same thing as high school graduation. At least, it shouldn't be. There has to be some societal recognition of an achievement level in between "dropout," as traditionally conceived, and being prepared to attend college. We can pretend all we want, but not every 18-year-old is ready and able to attend even a community college, and effectively labeling all of these kids as dropouts is nuts. If politics weren't enough to make me think we've gone collectively crazy already, stuff like this would do the trick.

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