A California high school diploma doesn’t mean much. The UC and CSU school systems should no longer require them

In 2020, public schools across the state let their students down, closing K-12 campuses for more than a year and offering inconsistent and inefficient online classes. Since then, education officials have often failed to recognize, and done too little to make up for, all the learning loss — which is why eighth graders in California are now doing fifth-grade math. year.

And with public schools just trying to survive chronic absenteeism, political controversy and historic declining enrollment, there’s little chance of restoring the system and its standards.

Rather than face up to this historic educational failure, the state of California has covered it up — eliminating testing, turning Ds and Fs into passing grades, and lowering graduation requirements, already among the thinnest in the country (we only require two years of math).

Add it all up (if you have the math skills), and a California high school diploma doesn’t mean much.

This is why our state university systems should stop requiring them for admission.

You read correctly. The University of California and California State University systems should drop their admission requirement that students graduate from high school — for at least a decade. Anyone who attended school in California during the pandemic should get a place in college, regardless of their high school diploma.

The concept is not new. You can attend California community colleges without a degree. Some colleges, including Harvard, admit students without a high school diploma.

But, unfortunately, UC and CSU are more focused than ever on grades and student work at failing high schools across the state. CSU plans to add a required quantitative course and raise its standards to 16 required high school courses, while 11 of the 13 factors UC considers when considering applications relate to high school performance.

This change is part of California’s self-righteous rush to eliminate standardized testing in education. By eliminating the SAT and the high school leaving exam, universities claim to promote inclusion, because standardized test scores are often biased. But you don’t have to be cynical to see cynicism. Without tests to verify student performance, the education system avoids accountability, protects itself, and shifts the cost of its failures onto pandemic-era students.

The education system has also failed to monitor students enough to provide a complete and accurate picture of the damage caused by the pandemic. But one almost certain truth is that the most vulnerable students — homeless students, students with disabilities, and students who are children of immigrants, or of color, or from poorer backgrounds — have been most likely to be left behind in the past two years. .

So if equity means anything in California education, these students deserve the right to enter any public university they choose, regardless of their high school achievement.

It will be difficult to give these students a real chance to stay in our universities. This will require new ways to assess high school dropouts to see if they would fit better into UC or CSU. It will take more types of support, more guidance and more resources to keep them there. (CSU’s Graduation initiative, which has been successful in keeping students in schools, could be the foundation for such a model.)

It may also require the federal government to step in and exempt California from requirements that tie federal financial aid to high school graduation. And it will force the state to shift its budget priorities, foregoing one-time giveaways like gas tax refunds and embracing the kind of longer-term educational investments that are difficult in our complicated budget system.

But if more students whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic can go to college and complete their education, they won’t be the only winners. Colleges, which are experiencing declining enrollment during the pandemic, will see more students. And California as a whole will be better off as well.

Indeed, decoupling high school graduation from college attendance may prove to be more than a short-term experience. California has produced far fewer college graduates than its economy requires. A new policy of opening universities to high school dropouts, combined with increased financial support and more robust online programs, could help address these issues.

If California wanted to be more ambitious, it could combine a “no high school diploma, no problem” policy with a broader program to help the millions of adults who dropped out of college come back and get their diplomas.

This approach is what true equity would look like — especially for young Californians who our education system has left behind.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.

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