A couple of years ago, one of my Mexican American high school teaching aides asked me what "errand" meant.
We grizzled veterans of California K-12 education are a hard-boiled lot who are not easily fazed by our student's academic shortcomings.
But "Loni" was a graduating senior accepted with a full ride to the well-regarded University of California at Davis. When she didn't know the definition of a 4th grade level vocabulary word, I had grave concerns about her college future.
I was reminded of "Loni" when the California State University released its shocking—no other word comes close—data on this year's freshmen.
Half of all CSU students need remedial instruction in English and one-third are not proficient in math. These dismal results fall far short of CSU's previously stated goal to raise proficiency to a minimum of 78% and 74% respectively for incoming freshmen.
The entrance requirement for the 23 California State University campuses is to have graduated high school while maintaining a 3.0 average.
In other words, those CSU freshmen requiring remedial instruction are from the top third of the California high school crop. (The very best go to the University of California system—like "Loni.")
These sorry facts reinforce my own sad but true assessment of California high schools: they are holding pens. Stick it out for four years, don't make trouble and you'll get a diploma. Should you learn anything along the way—most likely through osmosis—more power to you.
If you wonder how this sad situation came to pass, the answer is simple. For the last two decades, the focus in California K-12 schools is not on learning. The paramount issue, as seen through Sacramento's bureaucratic eyes, is English language development for the 1.5 million non-English speaking students—25% of the total 6 million student body. Other key concerns are diversity, ethnic awareness and multiculturalism.
No wonder little Johnnie doesn't know his decimals.
Contemplating the ineptitude of this year's freshman class, Jo Volkert, an associate vice president for enrollment at San Francisco State said, "It is a reflection of the kids we get coming in—what their preparation is in high school and what their backgrounds are. I really do believe it reflects our population, a lot of immigrants, people whose first language isn't English."
About 40% of CSU students come from immigrant families where English is not spoken at home.
The CSU system already spends over $10 million to teach subjects that should have been mastered in primary school. In an era of higher university fees and deep budget cuts imposed by the state, spending so much as a dime on remedial education is an insult to qualified students.
CSU now plans to initiate a training program for high school teachers to teach reading to ninth graders. Can you believe it? The university wants to groom teachers to teach high school kids—recently arrived non-English speaking immigrants, most likely— how to read.
Wouldn't it be more prudent to say, "Sorry, you are not college material at this time?" That was the decision CSU trustees made in 1995 when it announced it would end remedial instruction by 1999. But a few months later, the board caved into political correctness pressure from students and faculty. The deadline was extended for seven more years.
Tutoring isn't the only pie-in-the-sky program that CSU has cooked up. Later this spring, it will introduce its "Early Assessment Program" for 11th graders who want to find out where they stand in terms of college readiness.
This represents more wasted time, money and effort. High schools have perfectly capable counselors who can tell students where they stand academically.
Here is the most amazing thing: although CSU came up woefully short on its proficiency goals this year, the university expresses optimism that by 2007, 90% of incoming freshmen will be up to standards in both English and math.
Allison Jones, CSU's vice chancellor for the oddly named Department Of Access And Retention, said: "It is a big jump but we do think we will see great improvement largely because students will use the senior year of high school to try to strengthen their results."[CSU remedial plan falling shy of goal, San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 2004]
Dream on! Not one shred of evidence exists that would lead any sane person to that conclusion.
Unless… the powers that be in California realize that a college education is not an entitlement. The state university system should not be obligated to enroll every student with an inflated grade average especially if that student cannot multiply decimals.
The high numbers of under-performing, non-English speaking illegal alien students destroyed California's once great K-12 public schools. Six months ago, the California Board of Education scrapped—for the second time—its plans for a high-school exit exam. Who, the board must have wondered, could pass it?
Now the immigrant influx has the university system under siege. California may be approaching a point where university and high school diplomas will be equally worthless.
As evidence, consider that I ran into "Loni" a few weeks ago. She told me she's sailing through UC Davis. "It's easier than high school," she laughed.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.