Rising Up

By Lesli A. Maxwell — August 12, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As an aspiring actress, Monica Pérez had to go to Lincoln High School, the magnet campus for visual and performing arts in California’s San Jose Unified School District. She spent her freshman year at another school waiting to get in, and when she finally enrolled in the popular school near downtown San Jose in 10th grade, she marveled at the array of theater, music, and dance classes she could choose from.

But even more striking, she says, was the academic load. Classes such as algebra II, an elective at her former high school, were now required. To graduate on time from Lincoln High in 2007, she must take an extra year each of math, science, and foreign language.

“Here, the work is really challenging, and I’ve had the highest GPA of my life,” Monica said during a lunch break at Lincoln High last April, when she was a 16-year-old junior. “Here, I feel like I can get into the colleges I really want to.”

Nurturing such ambition in San Jose Unified, where 70 percent of the 32,000 students are minorities, began eight years ago when the school board abolished a traditional two-tiered system—one tier for (mostly white and Asian) college-bound students, the other for those aiming solely for high school graduation. Responding to parental demands, the board adopted rigorous graduation requirements. The premise was simple: Increase academic standards and expectations for all students, and they would rise up to meet them.

Beginning in 1998, district freshmen became the first high school class in the state that had to complete the University of California’s minimum requirements for college admission—a series of core academic courses and electives known as the “A-G sequence.” A-G, in San Jose Unified, means at least three years of college-prep math, four years of English, three years of science, 3.5 years of social studies, two years of a foreign language, and two years of visual or performing arts. Forty hours of community service are required as well.

To make this work, according to Linda Murray, who was superintendent at the time, the district crafted a menu of programs for those who might struggle with the change. Up to two additional periods were allotted for the high school day. Saturday sessions were created to help students, especially in math. Summer school was redesigned to be rigorous, not remedial. The district also opened AP enrollment to all students, and watched as a diverse group signed up.

The advanced curriculum has produced promising results. Graduation rates have held steady—at more than 90 percent—despite fears they would plummet under the new system. And in 2003, 45 percent of San Jose Unified’s Latino graduates satisfied the A-G coursework with grades of C or better. That rate outstripped that of Glendale Unified, the highest-performing urban district in Southern California, where 17 percent of Latino graduates earned a C or better, according to the Education Trust-West, an Oakland, California-based group that advocates increased rigor in high schools.

“San Jose is dispelling some very important myths,” said Russlyn Ali, executive director of the group. “What San Jose makes clear is that those fears that there’s no way that Latinos and low-income students can cut it in a more rigorous environment are just flat wrong.”

For Monica Pérez, who would be the first in her family to go to college, the A-G curriculum is providing her the necessary preparation.

“It’s not easy when you’re the first, and when there is no one in your family that’s been through it,” she said of pursuing higher education. “But being in a high school that demands more of me is going to get me there, hopefully to Juilliard or [New York University].”


Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Holocaust Books Must Be Countered With ‘Opposing’ Views, Texas School Administrator Says
Teachers were told they're required to offer alternative information for debated and controversial topics. The district later apologized.
Brian Niemietz, New York Daily News
2 min read
A book about David Boder's recordings of concentration camp survivors sits next to one of his wire recorders on display at the University of Akron's Center for History of Psychology on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 in Akron, Ohio.
A book about David Boder's recordings of concentration camp survivors sits next to one of his wire recorders on display at the University of Akron's Center for History of Psychology on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 in Akron, Ohio.
Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal via AP
Curriculum From Our Research Center Privacy, Porn, and Parents in the Room: Sex Education's Pandemic Challenges
After more than a year of instructional shifts and social isolation, students need sex education that is media-savvy and relationship-wise.
7 min read
Conceptual image of students feeling isolated, but also trying to connect.
Mary Haasdyk for Education Week
Curriculum Calls to Ban Books by Black Authors Are Increasing Amid Critical Race Theory Debates
Books about race and the experiences of Black Americans are being challenged by parents who claim they make white children feel uncomfortable.
8 min read
Fans of Angie Thomas, a Jackson, Miss., resident whose book, "The Hate U Give," has been on a national young adult best-seller list for over 80 weeks, show off their copies at a reception and book signing for the author, in Jackson on Oct. 10, 2018. Thomas' novel has crossed over to a wider audience than simply young adults. The reception honored her writing as well as the coming release of the big screen adaption of the first novel.
The young adult best-seller "The Hate U Give" was one of the top 10 most challenged books of 2020.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Sponsor
Executive Q&A: Building Back Better: The Future of Digital Curriculum
Edmentum’s Chief Strategy Officer Amanda Kocon and Chief Product Officer Todd Mahler discuss the future of digital curriculum.
Content provided by Edmentum Inc.