Report: California Schools Serving Socially Disadvantaged Students Send Too Few to College

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

The vast majority of California high schools that serve high numbers of low-income students and students of color do a poor job of sending their students on to college, a new report has found.

“The implications are pretty bad,” said Orville Jackson, senior research analyst at The Education Trust – West and lead author of the report, titled “Repairing the Pipeline: A Look at Gaps in California’s High School to College Transition.”

A major finding of the report is that college-going rates for African-American and Latino ninth-grade students lag behind the rates of White and Asian students by 20 to more than 30 percentage points. Fewer than half of such ninth-graders go to college upon graduation from high school or shortly thereafter, and the college-going rates for low-income students were just as low, the report found

“This is our population. It’s a growing population,” Jackson said of students of color in California. “We’re actually underserving the majority of our population in this state.”

Jackson said the situation portends trouble for the Golden State being able to meet its future workforce demands.

“We’re not preparing our students to meet our employment needs,” Jackson said. “So we’re going to have a workforce shortage.”

Jackson’s report compiled statistics that reveal what the report describes as a series of “breaks in the pipes.”

Those statistics include:

n    Only 1 out of every 6 African-American
and Latino high school freshmen in 2005 graduated in 2009 with the coursework required to be eligible to enter the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) systems.

n    African-American and Latino students are less likely to attend a UC or CSU campus than their White and Asian peers. For instance, in 2009, only 4 percent of African-American and Latino high school graduates enrolled at UC campuses compared to 12 percent of White and Asian students.

n    Latino and African-American high school graduates are far more likely to start in the California Community College (CCC) system than their White or Asian peers and far less likely to earn a credential or transfer.

n    In 2009, Latino and African-American students earned degrees at far lower rates in the UC and CSU systems than White or Asian students (17 percent for Latinos and 18 percent for African-Americans compared to 22 percent and 25 percent for Asian and White students, respectively).

To remedy the situation, Jackson’s report recommends that high schools provide struggling students with additional educational supports and opportunities for “credit recovery” to increase retention and reduce dropout rates.

It also calls for aligning high school graduation requirements with state college entrance criteria.

“It makes no sense for a student to graduate from a California high school without the option to apply to our state university system,” the report says. “At the same time, we should create incentives for California’s public universities to attract, support, retain, and graduate low-income students and students of color.”

Not all high schools do a poor job of sending their graduates onto college.

Jackson’s report found that 10 percent of schools that serve high numbers of Latino students and 27 percent of schools that serve high numbers of African-American students were actually “college pipeline” schools—meaning they had both graduation and college entrance rates that were higher than average.

Such schools, the report says, “should be identified and publicly recognized, and their practices should be shared with other high schools.”

But Jackson acknowledged he didn’t know what in particular these schools were doing to get better results.

“We have not yet had a chance to go down and kick the tires at these schools yet,” Jackson said. But in general, he said, such schools have been found to emphasize rigor, have a strong college-going culture and more of an alignment between their curriculum and college entrance requirements.

“So they’re not teaching students just to get them out the door,” Jackson said. “They’re teaching students what they need to know to get in the door to the universities.”

Some scholars say it will take more than aligning high school college curriculum with college entrance requirements to turn things around.

Dr. Patricia Gándara, co-director of The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, said educational disparities in California are more the result of lack of investment in education. This, she said, has made it hard for school districts to attract and retain teachers of color—something she said research has shown to have positive effects in the classroom. She said it has also led to a reduction in guidance counselors, whom she said serve as a critical link for first-generation college students.

The report’s call for better alignment between high school curricula and college entrance requirements are part of what she said were “good technical changes that would help a little bit.”

“But my concern is, unless you fundamentally change the resources available to these kids, in terms of good counseling and excellent teachers, they’re not prepared (for college), even if you get those things aligned,” Gándara said.

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