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Young students will soon be required to meet the same requirements to graduate from San Diego Unified as to apply for the University of California or California State University system, a change that the school system hopes will open the door to more opportunities for more students.

Teachers union President Bill Freeman said nobody expects every child to become a doctor or a lawyer, but the school district should set the bar high for everyone. Parents don’t want their children to be told that they can’t apply to college after they’ve graduated from high school, Freeman said.

“It’s time for us to stop using the budget as an excuse for not educating our kids,” Freeman concluded.

Right now, many students graduate high school but haven’t taken the right classes or gotten high enough grades to even apply for public universities in California. They can go to private universities or enroll at community colleges and try to transfer in, but the most direct path to a public university is closed off to them. African American and Latino students are disproportionately unlikely to meet that bar.

“The key issue here is about equity,” school board member John Lee Evans said.

San Diego Unified first pledged to make its graduation requirements match the college bar almost two years ago. It then did a study and convened a task force to figure out how to make it happen. This is the most concrete step that the school district has taken to make that pledge a reality.

To make the high school graduation requirements match the college requirements, San Diego Unified will require students to take Algebra II as part of their three years of math, two years of the same foreign language and an additional arts class.

The changes will take effect starting with students who graduate in 2016 — kids who are seventh graders today. Children with Ds and Fs will get extra help to assist them as the new rules fall into place. Assistant Superintendent Sid Salazar estimated that the changes would cost $15 million over four or five years.

Students would still have a backup plan: San Diego Unified also offers an alternative diploma for students in alternative schools or adult education.

The school board balked at two more controversial changes that came out of talks with a school district task force on college readiness: upping the number of credits needed to graduate from 44 to 48 and adding new requirements for “career readiness.” Some parents had resisted those changes, saying they would unnecessarily make it harder to graduate and arguing that more kids would drop out as a result.

Community groups that strongly supported the shift, such as the Equality Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union, didn’t back those specific changes. The school board voted to ask a career education committee to review the proposed career readiness requirements and offer its recommendations.

Confused about the college eligibility rules? Check out our San Diego Explained about the rules, commonly known as the A thru G requirements.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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