The interesting thing about public policy debates in Sacramento and Washington D.C. is the extent to which they do impact systems like San Diego Unified.

It would be difficult to deny the impact of the two major federal laws, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the No Child Left Behind Act, on local education systems. Similarly, the debates in Sacramento over the college preparedness, high school graduation and CAHSEE passage rates are often translated into the legislation that has a significant impact on our school system.

When these issues are framed by the larger economic competitiveness challenge, in this case posed by India and China, and in earlier years by Japan and the Soviet Union, there is an additional national security element to the equation. At that point, debates do become increasingly polarized and disconnected from realities on the ground.

For example, there is currently a raging debate over the nature of career and technical education. On one side are those folks who argue that every student should be college prepared (complete the A-G requirements). These folks tend to be opposed to and in some cases want to get rid of career tech. On the other side are those arguing that forcing all students into A-G will squeeze out career and technical education and argue for a loosening of college prep requirements.

There are valid arguments on both sides. The A-G folks point out the high percentages of minority students who do not go on to college and argue that they were never given the opportunity because low expectations kept them from accessing a college prep curriculum. On the other hand, there are business and industry groups pointing our massive shortages in technical fields that do not require a four-year liberal arts college education but do require a high degree of technical expertise and a solid math and science background.

They argue that requiring A-G will continue to constrict the pool of students entering career and technical education with the expectation of entering a well-paying career. A few years back when I was working in LA Unified, this CA and national debate became a local debate with folks demanding a system-wide requirement for A-G.

Here in San Diego, we are fortunate to have an example of middle ground in this debate with career and technical themed small academies such as Construction Tech at Kearney High School that integrate, in extremely inventive ways, a college-prep curriculum into a career tech curriculum.

But in a situation where one side or another wins “their fight” in Sacramento or Washington, legislation could be passed that could stifle the type of innovative that occurs in our local high schools. Right, now, just getting beyond and trying to work around the existing state and federal regulations and barriers in order to promote locally driven solutions is hard enough.

— ARUN RAMANATHAN

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