In an ideal academic world, the staff at Hollywood High School believes, everyone would live up to the words carved into the side of the school: “Equality Breeds No War.” Every student would enter ninth grade with the desire to attend college and the academic skills needed to pass rigorous courses.
But in reality, counselors and teachers say many of their students don’t have that hunger nor are they prepared for tougher academics.
They say a Los Angeles school board proposal to require all high school students to take college prep courses is intellectually valid but practically impossible. The Los Angeles Unified School District, they say, doesn’t understand what they are up against.
“In L.A. Unified, we can’t teach these kids to multiply,” said math instructor Geoff Buck, who has been teaching for 19 years. By expecting them to meet more difficult standards “we’re forcing them to drop out. We’re actually doing them harm.”
The Board of Education is expected to vote in June on the proposal, which would require all students to take the 15 high school courses needed for acceptance into the University of California or California State University systems. Students would be required to take four years of English, three years of math, two years of history, science and foreign language, and a year of visual and performing arts and advanced electives.
But at schools such as Hollywood High, teachers and counselors say the district’s focus needs to be shifted more toward middle schools, where even failing students are promoted to the next grade level.
“A lot of students just never receive these basic skills in middle school,” said Hollywood High counselor Elizabeth Payne. “Kids come to me and say ‘I don’t understand anything he’s telling me to do.’ This is understanding simple things like percentages and ratios.”
During one Hollywood High math class on a recent afternoon, Buck went over a lesson on parallel slopes and positive integers. He was vying for the attention of two girls whispering about Spanish soap operas in the back of the room.
“Guys, I’ve lost you completely,” said Buck, who was teaching a basic class required for high school graduation. “I’ve lost you.”
Another student flipped through a magazine with pictures of Jennifer Lopez. A 20-year-old sophomore gazed through a window, twirling a ruler around his pencil.
Buck tried again: “This is not hard.”
Most had already failed algebra once. Buck worries what would happen to students like them if the district approved the college track plan.
Patty Iniguez, 18, a senior at Hollywood, doesn’t have much faith in her classmates. “They’re going to fail,” she said.