College & Workforce Readiness

Report Faults Calif. on College Preparation

By Lynn Olson — March 28, 2006 3 min read
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California students face major roadblocks en route to college, according to a report, which found the Golden State sends a smaller proportion of high school seniors—23 percent—to four-year colleges than any other state but Mississippi.

The report, released last week by the Institute for Democracy Education and Access, at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California’s All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity, analyzes public data on the state’s college-preparatory infrastructure.

“2006 California Educational Opportunity Report” is posted by the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access.

It found that, compared with their peers nationally, California students are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to college preparation. Among the reasons:

• California provides one high school teacher for every 21 students. The national average is 15 students per teacher.

• In more than a quarter of California high schools, more than one-fifth of college-prep classes are taught by teachers without full certification in the subjects they teach.

• More than half of California’s high schools do not offer enough college-prep classes for all their students. At those schools, fewer than 67 percent of classes are considered college-preparatory.

“The roadblocks to college that we examine are actually problems of the education infrastructure that will require legislative action to fix,” Jeannie Oakes, a professor at UCLA and the director of the two groups that produced the report, said during a March 22 conference call on the release of the study.

“The shortages that we see in teachers and counselors, in particular, are a reflection of too few dollars going into the state’s education system,” she said.

Adjusting for regional cost differences, California ranks 43rd among the states in educational spending per student, spending on average $6,765 per pupil in 2002-03, the most recent year for which comparable data were available.

Minority Schools

All groups of students in California, including white and middle-class students, experience some of the barriers described in the report, but the problems are most common in high schools serving primarily students of color, said John Rogers, the associate director of the Institute for Democracy Education and Access and one of the authors.

For example, intensely segregated schools—those with minority-student enrollments of more than 90 percent—are four times more likely than majority-white schools to experience all of the counselor, teacher, and coursework challenges highlighted in the report.

Schools with all of those shortcomings have severe difficulties achieving even minimum standards, the report says.

They are 3½ times more likely than other schools to be categorized as needing “program improvement” for failing to meet their performance targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (37 percent, compared with 10 percent), and they are 2½ times more likely than other schools to have extremely high rates of failure on the California High School Exit Exam (51 percent, compared with 20 percent).

Ninth graders in schools with all the roadblocks—one in eight public high schools statewide—also had much lower chances of graduating on time and entering college than their peers. In those schools:

• Only 56 percent of freshmen in the class of 2004 graduated on time, compared with 71 percent statewide.

• Only 7 percent of entering freshmen enrolled in a four-year California public college immediately after graduation, compared with 13 percent statewide.

• Another 18 percent enrolled in a public community college, compared with 23 percent statewide.

In addition to the statewide report, the researchers prepared separate analyses for each of California’s 80 state legislative districts, which vary greatly in giving their students opportunities for college preparation.

A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2006 edition of Education Week as Report Faults Calif. on College Preparation

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