Facing strong opposition, a much-debated proposal to increase the number of high school math and related courses required for applicants to the California State University system has been revised to delay implementation by a year, until 2027, with stronger exemptions for students at schools that don’t offer enough classes to meet the requirement.
The changes come after much controversy about the proposal and a request from Gov. Gavin Newsom to delay a vote by the CSU Board of Trustees from its original Nov. 20 schedule until its next meeting, in January. The vote has been put off for two months “based on the desire to better inform stakeholders of these changes and a request by the governor — an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees — for additional time to review the proposal as it currently stands,” said CSU spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp.
If approved, increasing the requirement from the current three years of high school math to four years would go into effect starting with students who are now in the fifth grade.
The plan to mandate that applicants to the 23-campus CSU system take a fourth year of high school math or a related “quantitative reasoning” class like statistics, computer science or an extra science lab has triggered strong opposition from some civil rights and education groups, which contend the additional yearlong course will create barriers for students. CSU administrators say that 91 percent of fall 2018 first-year students already fulfilled the proposed change in high school and that the plan would help others be better prepared for college work.
In a significant shift, the CSU leadership is now proposing that the requirement not go into effect for seven years, one year longer than originally sought, “to allow additional time for capacity building efforts and communication to students and families,” according to the advance agenda for the upcoming meeting of the CSU trustees.
In another important change, CSU now says it will automatically exempt students from the requirement if they attend schools with inadequate course offerings. Identifying those schools will be done by CSU with help from the University of California and the California Department of Education. The exemption waivers will be phased out over time, once all schools in the state can offer the required courses, according to CSU. The plan previously would have required students to seek out an exemption on their own, prompting concerns from opponents that students would need to navigate a bureaucratic process to get an exemption.
The university system “remains committed to access and takes seriously the responsibility to do no harm to students who may be attending schools with limited access to qualifying courses. And the university is committed to partnering with districts, schools and community organizations to build the necessary capacity for successful implementation,” the agenda item said.
At public hearings on the proposal, opponents repeatedly asked trustees to delay a vote, arguing that more time was needed to assess the potential impact of the plan. Trustee Silas Abrego and student trustee Juan García also joined in the calls to delay the vote, as did State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
Opponents say many schools lack the teachers to offer the required courses and that those schools disproportionately enroll high numbers of black, Latino and low-income students. However, CSU officials said that more than 99 percent of California high schools offer at least one course that would satisfy the proposal.
To help high schools meet the demand for classes, the CSU has pledged $10 million to an initiative that prepares teachers in math and science. Opponents have said they are worried that CSU’s $10 million investment in its Math and Science Teacher initiative will be insufficient to address teacher shortages throughout the state.
Opponents of the extra year of math include the California Teachers Association, the California School Boards Association, the system’s faculty union, several education advocacy groups and the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest school district.