Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Crime and high school graduation requirements

We don’t really want to face the truth. The truth is far too many California high schools are terrible. State legislation pushes kids out of high school and causes crime, including murder and other violent crime. This societal dysfunction comes from laws that cause high-school dropouts. The dropout rate is 30 percent, but it is 40 percent in urban high schools and 50 percent among blacks and Hispanics.
The University of California Santa Barbara Dropout Project estimates that over their lifetimes, just one year of California high school dropouts will cost society $24,212,395,755. They also project that over their lifetimes this one year’s group of dropouts will commit 113,954 violent assaults, rapes and murders. This cost and carnage are preventable. Since we know the trajectory of dropouts into crime and jail, these numbers are the end result of an ongoing, unheralded catastrophe in California.
The root cause of this crime is the chaos created in California’s high schools. In the 1980s, laws requiring specific courses be completed in order to graduate from high school in California were enacted. This really goes back to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig’s core curriculum, which tried to make our high schools into college prep schools. It hasn’t worked.
About 30 percent of high school students go on to graduate from college. This is plenty because only 20 percent of the jobs in America require a four-year college degree. These additional high school graduation requirements are only appropriate for this elite 30 percent group. Non-college bound students do not need the state-required algebra or biology courses. The symbolism of algebra and the Latin language in biology are complex and create impossible-to-overcome learning obstacles for lower-achieving students. When high school students flunk these classes, they are forced to retake them. This immediately puts them behind schedule for graduation and this prevents these students from completing a sequence of career technical education courses. This means even if they stay in school they don’t learn an employable skill. Thus, many youth are largely unemployable whenever they leave high school. These students have also lost the great value of formerly required consumer math and physical science courses.
The unintended consequence of raising high school graduation requirements has been the skyrocketing of the high school dropout rate. Now, 70 percent of the 2.5 million people in prison and another 4.5 million on parole and probation in America are high school dropouts. Nationally, over 1 million students drop out of high school every year. We have 10 percent of these dreadful numbers in California.
The truth of 30 years of misguided education law in California is that millions of kids have been unnecessarily pushed out of school. Yes, it is true and most of this mayhem is preventable.
Fixing the problem, however, isn’t as easy as changing graduation requirements. It requires addressing the issue of high school reform.
The career technical education programs in California’s high schools have largely been destroyed. Over the past 30 years, high schools had to pay for additional math and science courses by eliminating career technical education courses. It is time to require all high school students to complete a four-year sequence of career technical education courses that is necessary to create employable young people. By changing the state requirements, high schools can shift funding back to staffing career technical education courses.

However, the career technical education program facilities require reconstruction, equipment and supplies. The truth is that substantial funding is required to begin to make up for the state’s devastating laws.
The place to begin is to expand funding of the California Partnership Academies to add 1,000 new career academies. Changing graduation requirements will fund the majority of reform, but much more funding is required to implement reform. Ultimately, the costs of reconstructing career technical education will be repaid many times over with taxes from employed youth and savings in criminal justice and prisons, as well as preventing assaults and murders.
By starting now, we can begin to reduce the very real costs of dropouts in crime and incarceration.
Wilson, a resident of Scripps Ranch, earned a doctorate in education at the University of Southern California, managed career technical education programs in an urban school district for 30 years, and is the author of “Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration?”

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