With one-third of students failing at least one class in high school, the San Jose Unified School District is considering reducing the number of credits required to graduate by eliminating three years of electives.
That means students would only need 210 credits to graduate. Currently, they need 240, which means passing six classes in each of their four years of high school. If approved by the school board in May, the move would bring the district more in line with other districts both locally and statewide.
The idea has generated mixed response.
"That is a good thing," said Jesse Nuñez, 17, a junior at San Jose High, on hearing about the plan. He already has to make up classes he failed and is worried about assembling enough credits next year. If not, "you can't graduate with your people, and your parents are disappointed in you."
If the district lowers elective requirements, he said, "you could be doing more important things."
Others doubt the change will benefit the students it purports to help.
"The idea that a solution would be to reduce the credits they need to graduate is really a disconnect," said Susan Ellenberg, a parent and mentor at Lincoln High -- the district's arts magnet. "It's electives that keep kids coming to school. They're willing to engage in academics for the reward."
The proposal, district officials say, won't reduce the number of electives being offered. Students will still have to take core courses plus two years each of foreign language, art and physical education, in keeping with the district's requirement that students graduate with the courses needed for entry into California's public universities.
San Jose Unified's current requirement for 50 units of electives keeps "hundreds of kids sitting in classes being teacher assistants," said Stephen McMahon, the school district's chief business officer. Students, he said, become TAs simply to rack up elective credits. "It's a waste of time."
By eliminating 30 elective units, students who fail classes will have time to retake them during school hours, instead of doing Saturday or summer school or "taking some bogus online class that's not very rigorous," McMahon said. And others can participate in extracurricular activities like taking seminars or advanced-placement study groups, filling out college applications or working, district officials said. Those activities haven't yet been planned on most campuses. They will be worked out next year, said Jackie Zeller, who oversees secondary curriculum and instruction for the district.
While motivated students will take advantage of those opportunities, some parents say, the targeted students may not. So instead of trying to make up credits outside of school hours or in the summer, students will be trying to catch up during the regular school day. "Pretty soon there will be more students with recovery classes than in the next level," said Janet Akin, the grandparent of a Lincoln student and a member of the Lincoln Foundation board.
Some question why a proposal two years in the making was unveiled suddenly, with little apparent input from parents, students and teachers.
"I think it's a very good idea," said Sofia Fojas, a music teacher at San Jose High. "But what is the purpose? To improve graduation rates? To capture those students falling between the cracks? It's unclear."
At Lincoln High, parents and teachers fear that reducing required credits means students ultimately will take fewer electives, causing fewer offerings of those classes and creating a downward spiral.
If he weren't required to take an elective, he might not have taken Portuguese -- which has been very useful, said Kevin Jauregui, 17, a senior at San Jose High. He already speaks Spanish.
"I worry this proposal will sacrifice the opportunity to provide a large percentage of average achievers a well-rounded education," wrote Michele Bertolone, a parent at River Glen and Willow Glen Middle schools, "in order to provide a small percentage of students an opportunity to make up academic credits."
Clearly, though, district officials said, the status quo is not acceptable. Students at all levels, Zeller said, need more options and more flexibility.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.
A community meeting to discuss the proposed change in credits required for graduation will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. March 31 at Gunderson High School Library, 622 Gaundabert Lane, San Jose.
To read details about the proposal, go to www.sjusd.org and scroll to the bottom of the page.
SChool districts' graduation requirements
The number of credits required to graduate varies by district and school. Ten credits equals two semesters, or one year of a class.
San Jose Unified 240
Valley Christian 240
Oakland Unified 230
Santa Clara Unified 230
Campbell Union 220
East Side Union 220
Fremont Union 220
Mt. View-Los Altos 220
Gilroy Unified 220
Morgan Hill Unified 220
Palo Alto Unified 210
Downtown College Prep 180
ACE Charter High 180
Source: San Jose Unified School District