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Trade-offs Involved in Substituting CTE for Language Courses

Legislation Proposes Alternatives for Some High School Graduation Requirements

By Andrew Keller and Nate Rose - May 20, 2010

In an attempt to address California’s devastating high school drop-out rates, Assembly Member Warren Furutani has proposed a change to high school graduation requirements.

A 2006 study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of a High School Dropout,” found that forty-seven percent of dropouts were disinterested in their classes.

Nevertheless, the study’s survey also revealed that eighty-one percent of these students believed a high school graduation was necessary for success in life.

To provide a solution to this disconnect, Furutani has introduced Assembly Bill 2446, which would allow high school students to enroll in a Career Technical Education (CTE) course instead of the currently required course in foreign language or visual and performing arts.  Schools which do not currently have the ability to offer their students career technical education courses are not required to establish a career technical education program.

The change in requirements would not commence until the 2011-2012 school year, and would sunset on July 1, 2016.

By increasing the number of choices available to students in order to satisfy graduation requirements, it is logical to presume that students will be more likely to graduate from high school.  CTE courses can offer students a different perspective and experience than traditional coursework, and their place within California’s education system is practical.  However, little attention has been given to the potential drawbacks of the change in curriculum presented by this bill.
Since the bill allows for a student to complete a CTE course instead of a fine arts or foreign language class to graduate, the role of fine arts and foreign language in our education system are essentially devalued.  Giving the students such a choice, increases the chances that students will exit high school without the learning experiences gained from taking a class in the visual and performing arts or foreign language, which are different than core curriculum courses. 

AB 2446 is not only attempting to increase graduation rates but to also improve the chances of the state’s youth to engage in a meaningful and successful career.  Assembly Member Furutani argues that CTE courses are important in that they present students with the opportunity to learn practical skills and experience in a career field.  These experiences and skills gained can in turn lead a student to discover new jobs and vocational paths, and there is little doubt that they can be beneficial to students.  Nevertheless, one could easily argue that foreign language classes are of greater importance.

Living in an increasingly multi-cultural state, where many different languages other than English are commonly spoken, there is a need to develop foreign language communication skills among California’s youth.  The world economy and today’s marketplace depend on the ability to effectively communicate with people of different cultures, and speaking different languages is highly desirable.  Therefore to be able to sustain California’s robust economy and to prepare youth to compete in a global marketplace, it is a practical necessity to develop language skills.

Finally, the provided analysis of the bill by the Assembly Education Committee seems to underestimate the potential impact of the change made to the high school graduation requirements on college admissions.  California’s high school graduation requirements are already below the standards necessary to apply to the University of California (UC) system and the California State University (CSU) system.  To be eligible to attend a UC or a CSU, a high school student must have completed two courses in foreign language and one in visual and performing arts.  It should also be noted that these are minimum requirements and are not the recommended requirements.  Simply put, giving the students the option to complete a CTE course instead of a foreign language or visual and performing arts course may increase the likelihood that some students will be ineligible to enroll in a UC or CSU.

Legislators should also consider the effect budget cuts have had upon high school counselors.  With the few remaining counselors often overwhelmed on our campuses, it will be easier for students to be left unaware that they are making themselves ineligible for UC or CSU attendance by opting out of foreign language and visual performing arts classes.  In a state which already has projected shortfalls in the number of college graduates necessary to sustain future workforce levels, we can simply not afford to increase high school graduation rates while negatively impacting undergraduate rates. 

While it seems clear that the severe drop-out rates in California require legislative action, increasing graduation rates at the risk of decreasing college attendance may solve one problem and create another.

Source: Andrew Keller is a policy consultant and Nate Rose is a UC San Diego Legislative Intern for Governmental Solutions Group, LLC.  We think that our readers may benefit from a fresh perspective