Magazine article Leadership

Fulfilling the Commitment: Excellence for All Students: Our Ability to Meet the Needs of Students of Color, the Poor and English Learners Will Determine Both Their Individual Economic Prospects and California's Overall Economic Strength

Magazine article Leadership

Fulfilling the Commitment: Excellence for All Students: Our Ability to Meet the Needs of Students of Color, the Poor and English Learners Will Determine Both Their Individual Economic Prospects and California's Overall Economic Strength

Article excerpt

If present conditions are the best predictors of future success, students of diverse backgrounds are in deep trouble. By any recognizable measure of success, the state's educational system is not meeting the needs of students of color, the poor or English learners.

Both the California High School Exit Exam and No Child Left Behind demand that we prepare all students at higher levels than ever before. Beyond that, as educational leaders, we have to be concerned with enacting educational policies and practices that guarantee that every student we serve succeeds in and beyond school. In California, this responsibility has been articulated as a commitment to:

* Eliminate the persistent achievement and access gaps between white students and students of color, affluent students and poor students, and English learners and native English speakers.

* Accelerate and sustain academic progress through grade 12 and beyond for all students achieving at less than proficient levels.

* Ensure every student attains high and meaningful standards across the curriculum, resulting in full preparation for the option of entering the university system after high school graduation.

* Mobilize our resources to successfully prepare every student for the 21st century.

At minimum, this means students must pass the CAHSEE. Yet, results show we are struggling to achieve this minimal goal. For English learners, students of color, poor students and special education students, the statistics are grim, whether we're talking about English language arts or mathematics, where ostensibly, language is not an issue.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell recently said, "I remain troubled by the persistence of the achievement gap among several of our subgroups." (CDE Press Release, August 2006).

What does this mean in California, where ethnic minority students make up a significant portion of the enrollment? It means we cannot achieve excellence in education unless we achieve excellence for these students as well. The same applies to language minority students.

Today, over a third of the nation's English language learners attend school in California, where they comprise more than a quarter of all our students. Short term, our ability to successfully educate these students will determine whether they are able to graduate. Ultimately, in real-world terms, our ability to develop these students as "college-ready" individuals will determine both their individual economic prospects and California's overall economic strength. Even without taking the High School Exit Exam into account, we're already in trouble.

Today, one million 18- to 24-year-old Californians, about 30 percent of this age group, do not have a high school diploma. We know there's a close association between education and employment. High school dropouts are four times more likely than college graduates to be unemployed. Even when employed, high school dropouts earn only 70 percent of what graduates earn.

Regarding high school graduation rates, California ranks 45th among the 50 states. According to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (2000), in California, for every 100 students who enter ninth grade, only 70 graduate from high school in four years, only 37 enter college, only 25 are still enrolled in college after their sophomore year, and only 19 earn a degree within six years of entering college.

These patterns disproportionately impact low-income people, communities of color, English learners and immigrants. As several studies have demonstrated, race, class, language and immigrant status characterize our state's pronounced graduation gap. According to the Urban Institute, while 78 percent of white students graduate from high school, only 60 percent of Latinos, 57 percent of African Americans and 53 percent of Native Americans graduate.

As reported in a recent study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, fewer than two-thirds of all students graduated from high schools in central city districts and in communities that suffer from high levels of racial and socioeconomic segregation. …

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