Can College Courses for High School Students Attract Families to LAUSD?
This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Hailey Galvan, a unified high schooler from Los Angeles, had never considered attending one of the most elite colleges in the country — until she took a special college course offered at her school.
It was in the National Equity Lab classroom at Santee High School in southeast Los Angeles that Wesleyan University professors taught Hailey and her classmates the works of psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in a course entitled “The Modern and the Postmodern”.
“[Wesleyan] wasn’t really an option for me, but I fell in love with the class,” Hailey said. “…Now I want to study sociology at university.”
Hailey’s course is part of a partnership between LAUSD and The National Equity Lab — a program launched in 2019 offering elite college courses to low-income public high schools across the country. The program currently reaches over 10,000 students.
At two Los Angeles high schools, Santee and Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley, college classes ranging from poetry in America to statistics and data are offered five days a week. The students watch the recorded lectures of the professors, completing the same work as the students. Courses from schools such as Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, which cost up to $1,800 per semester, are offered free to these students.
New Los Angeles Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he wants to expand the program this fall to attract families to LAUSD schools where enrollment has fallen sharply.
“There aren’t many programs that meet students where they are like this and offer simultaneous opportunities to earn high school credit while participating in the highest level of college education,” Carvalho told the LA School Report.
As Miami school superintendent, Carvalho doubled the number of Equity Lab partner schools from 11 high schools to more than 20.
“It’s as close as I’ve ever seen to replicating a college course in high school…it shows kids, ‘I can do it as much as anybody else,'” said David Berry, a teacher of English at Santee.
Santee director Violetta Ruiz, which is working to get more students into four-year colleges, said Equity Lab helps students realize they can attend elite schools. “We want to do everything we can to make sure our students believe they can go to a four-year college,” Ruiz said, “We want to expose them to as many schools as possible.”
Although elite colleges have made efforts to enroll more students from low-income communities, data shows these students are less likely to enter the most selective colleges, the National Equity founder said. Lab, Leslie Cornfeld.
“I think the talent is evenly distributed, but the opportunity is not,” Cornfield said.
“Even the best students in low-income schools didn’t think they were worthy of going to college.” She said admissions officers at top colleges would tell her “we (have been) trying to find talented students in these zip codes, but we just can’t.” ”
The Equity Lab program is designed to educate universities about students from low-income communities and give them the confidence and preparation to enter an elite school.
Currently teaching a Howard University course on the principles of criminal justice, Allison Glick, a psychology professor at Santee, said each class begins with a discussion. One day, the students were discussing the 13th Amendment and its effect on the growth of incarcerated people. A student wrote about the effects of street lighting on crime rates for a midterm paper.
“I just feel like in these classes, you can actually express yourself and voice your opinions. In my regular high school classes, it’s very ‘on the book,'” said Daniel Pae, a Santee junior. enrolled in two National Equity Lab classes this year “These classes allow you to explore.”
But there are issues that LAUSD school and Equity Lab officials have promised to resolve before classes are extended in September.
This school year, three of the four National Equity Lab classes at Santee were held from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., not during the normal school day. Berry and other teachers said the early hour, an issue since the program began at Santee in 2019, has kept enrollment low and tended to attract only the most motivated students.
Because the National Equity Lab courses were not on Santee’s list of core courses when students selected spring courses, the three teachers who conducted the courses selected their own students. Howard University’s Glick Criminal Justice Course has 11 students. Its regular psychology classes have up to 45 students.
“It’s really us who are looking for the kids who can meet in our ungodly hours and who we think can do the job,” Berry said. “It would be great to have these classes integrated into the day where we could reach more students of different abilities. It would really be fairness, rather than serving the children of the PA, again.
School officials said the problem at Santee was a “scheduling issue.” Courses in Birmingham are all offered during the school day.
Carvalho said offering Equity Lab classes during the day starting next fall “is something we aspire to do.”
“I certainly intend to align this program with more easily accessible time slots for greater participation,” Carvalho said. “I realize that there might be some challenges with this program in Los Angeles. Right now the program is somewhat restricted…”
Since many top colleges, including the University of California system, no longer require standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT for admission, other criteria for students to stand out, like the Lab program, are even more important, Cornfeld said.
“Carvalho definitely sees the power of this program to bring students and families back into the [public school] system,” Cornfield said, “…I think school district leaders realize that as we become more and more optional, this is a new path and a new title for students demonstrate their college readiness and the talents they can bring to those campuses.”
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Rebecca Katz is a recent graduate of the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism’s MA program and is originally from Los Angeles. She received her BA in English Literature and Political Science from USC. She is passionate about mental health and education reform.