The Great High School Hoax

This blog was written specifically for San Diego, however the concepts apply to many high schools across America.

San Diego City Schools has raised high school graduation requirements to be essentially college entrance requirements. On the face of it, this sounds impossible, and it is. The experienced education research community decried this policy saying it will drive up the high school dropout rate. The school board created a hoax by putting a variety of programs in place to make the dropout rate appear to be better than it really is.

What do I mean by a hoax? It means the school system has played with the definition of the dropout rate by fiddling with its method of calculation. They don’t count special-education students. They don’t count students who move to another country. Leaving out these lowest achieving students skews the new cohort method of calculating the dropout rate. And they do count the GED, charter school, and High School Diploma Program graduates. These programs may have value, but they do not constitute a high school diploma. What if the special education students and students who left the country were all counted? And what if the GED, charter schools, and High School Diploma Program students were not counted? The real dropout rate would be, and in fact is, far higher. Not counting low achieving students and counting students who really didn’t graduate constitutes a hoax, a public relations hoax.

The reason the board had to create this public relations hoax is because they have required University of California A-G entrance requirements for all students. The California Master Plan for Higher Education specifies that the UC system is intended exclusively for the top ten percent of high school students. Clearly, the UC colleges are meant for only the most elite students. Requiring all high school students to meet these elite requirements may sound good to the community, but it is impossible for average kids to meet these standards, much less low achieving kids. The standardized test scores of the district are terrible. Thus, it doesn’t make sense that any educational organization would be able to successfully cause a high proportion of their students to complete these difficult courses. So how is the district attempting to perform this impossible feat? They water down the course standards and accept a “D” grade as passing when this grade is actually defined as failing. This is the second part of the hoax.

The third part of the hoax is the district’s lack of providing an appropriate education for the supermajority of students who will not go on to graduate from college. Nationally, only 30 percent of high school students graduate from a four-year college. Urban schools, such as many in San Diego, do far worse. The supermajority population of students is not learning consumer math, parenting, nutrition, and most significantly, career technical education. This supermajority of kids is systematically being dropped off a cliff with no employable skills. They leave high school as unemployable adults, which is truly no better than dropouts. And we know what happens to the dropouts. Seventy percent of the 2.5 million in prison and additional 4.5 million on probation and parole in America are high school dropouts. This is the hellish trajectory for far too many of these kids.

A four-year sequence of career technical education provides high school students with 900 hours of technical skill development. This is far more hours than a college major or an apprenticeship program. People say the solution to this lack of occupational education is for the kids to go to community college. The reality, however, is many students go there and take placement tests, don’t do well on the tests, and within a year the great majority drop out of the community colleges.

It makes more sense for the district to get rid of the UC A-G requirements and require a four-year sequence of career technical education for all students while they are in high school. The school board can initiate multiple career academies and require a four-year sequence of career technical education. Research shows just as many career academy graduates go on to college. And when students graduate high school with an employable skill, provide a job placement service for the supermajority of kids who will not go on to graduate from college. Employing our high school grads would get rid of the hoax perpetrated on the San Diego community, parents, and our kids, as well as substantially reduce crime and incarceration.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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