Plan for Tough Courses Splits School Board

Times Staff Writer

Strong disagreement surfaced Tuesday among San Diego city school board members over the effects of a sweeping plan to make regular high school courses far more rigorous.

Members split over whether a majority of students would respond positively and learn more under the plan, or would react negatively and become frustrated at the increased difficulty, perhaps dropping out in even greater numbers.

The sharp differences among board members mirrored the wide range of opinion among students asked about the idea by a reporter at Point Loma High School this week. A sampling of several classes brought out issues of student and teacher motivation, the relevance of college-preparatory courses to job-bound graduates, and the right of students to choose their plan of study. Those concerns were also voiced by the board Tuesday.

Supt. Thomas Payzant will bring back to the board on June 17 staff views of the proposal in a report he believes can find a middle ground.

At issue is the plan by Trustees Dorothy Smith and Jim Roache to revamp the regular curriculum so that it would satisfy college-prep requirements of the state's university and state college systems. The content of courses now labeled as advanced would become that of the regular curriculum.

Would Have to Pass

The 80% of the district's 116,000 students who now take regular courses would have to satisfactorily pass the harder courses to graduate, whether or not they plan to go to college. Elective choices in fine arts and vocational arts would be sharply curtailed.

"Right now we choose students who can have access to college through advanced classes," Smith said. "With a new (regular) core curriculum, all students will have to go through that (college-prep) curriculum."

Roache said regular students need a stronger education for better career preparation, even if they don't necessarily understand the immediate relevance of requiring a foreign language, algebra and four years of social studies.

"Maybe we should remove the latitude that some high school students have today," Roache said, "and direct and focus them in areas where they may need (knowledge) later on in life."

But board President Kay Davis said that such stiff, inflexible requirements would leave "no wiggle room" for a large pool of students with varied reading ability, parental support and motivation.

Davis agreed with Garfield High School teacher Gale Todd, who told the board not to shortchange the many students wanting vocational or industrial arts for jobs after graduation.

"Pushing these students harder with harder courses and saying, 'You will make it' . . . I don't see (the desired result) happening," Davis said. "Offering (a harder curriculum) and saying you must take it or no diploma, are two different things."

No 'Wiggle Room' Needed

Smith responded: "I don't think you need wiggle room."

"That's your opinion," Davis replied.

"That's your opinion," Smith replied.

Board member Susan Smith said: "One of the questions we must face is that of motivation. . . . If a student is making low grades in consumer math, what difference is a D or F in algebra? . . . It doesn't make you eligible for college. We have to be realistic."

Earlier this week, the Point Loma students framed the issue in more personal terms.

"If a person is not planning to go to college, and wants to learn something like welding or metal shop but is required to take all college classes, that would be useless and waste the time of 90%," Miguel Fuentes said in Barney Davis' course on work experience.

"You can't be forced to be motivated, you can't have classes forced on you," Jamie Price said. "Interest is what makes you take (advanced) classes."

"My classes are easy because I deliberately wanted an easy schedule to be able (to have a job)," Alex Hurtado said. "I should have the choice whether I want easy or hard."

"Some classes you take are never going to be needed," another student complained. "So why we have to take them, I don't know."

Teachers Called Key

Numerous students in George Rion's advanced-placement U.S. history class said teachers will be the key to the overall success of a harder program. Among their comments:

- "The kids in regular classes don't have motivation, they just lean back, and some of the teachers don't care, they just figure the kids aren't going to work."

- "I think if you combined advanced and regular classes, you'd see some regular students being motivated and trying harder, but then again, five or six people goofing around could cause (a lot of problems) . . . It would depend on how well teachers could keep students motivated."

- "I think it would be good to offer better classes but if you want motivation, you have to have the whole society, especially families, caring a lot more than they do now."

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