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Cal State Plan to Cut Remedial Aid Assailed : Education: State Sen. Hayden says proposal to reject students who lack college skills will unfairly affect minorities.

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Dismissing as “folly” a proposal to phase out remedial education at California State University, state Sen. Tom Hayden called upon trustees of the 22-campus system Friday to seek an emergency legislative session on the myriad problems facing higher education.

Speaking at a public hearing on a plan to deny admission--beginning in 2001--to students who lack college-level English and math skills, Hayden warned that the proposal would disproportionately exclude minority students.

“I know you have the authority, but don’t do this unilaterally,” Hayden said. “Seek legislative hearings. Join us in asking the governor to call a special session on this overall problem of access, quality, fees, budget cuts. The downsizing of higher education . . . should not be done without legislative debate.”

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The Santa Monica Democrat was clearly at odds with the proposal’s supporters, who say it will force the state’s public schools to better prepare students, while at the same time protecting Cal State’s academic standards.

But Hayden’s call for a special legislative session won him an unexpected ally: Ralph Pesqueira, the Republican chairman of the Cal State Board of Trustees.

“I will contact the governor and I will tell him that we’ve asked for an emergency session on education,” said Pesqueira, a San Diego businessman who was appointed to the Cal State board by former Gov. George Deukmejian. “I’m for anything that will focus all the power makers on looking at education.”

The four-hour hearing, the second of five around the state over the next two months, drew about 100 students, parents and teachers. More than two dozen people spoke, and every one of them warned the board that there would be dire consequences if they decided to phase out remedial education.

Among the predictions: that the Cal State student body will become much less ethnically diverse, that talented students will be unfairly denied a college education, and that the community college system will become hopelessly overloaded.

“Your effort is clearly to eliminate students,” said Marty Hittleman, president of the Community College Council of the California Federation of Teachers. But Hittleman said community colleges will not be able to absorb those students without more funding.

Overall, 60% of Cal State freshmen need remedial courses in math or English, based on poor performance on placement exams. The percentage is higher among minorities and recent immigrants.

Supporters of the proposal to cut remedial programs say the five-year transition period it calls for will provide sufficient time for high school students and teachers to find ways to meet the tougher requirements. By the time the proposal would take effect, they predict, a much lower percentage of Cal State applicants will need remedial help because the public schools will be forced to improve.

But several speakers called that argument naive.

“I sympathize with the desire to raise the skill levels of entering freshmen,” said Enrique De La Cruz, assistant director of Asian American Studies at UCLA. “But the five-year timeline is extremely unrealistic.”

Hayden accused Cal State of trying to walk away from a problem that it helped create. Hayden reminded that a majority of California’s public school teachers are trained by Cal State.


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