• by Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June – July 2010 • 

High school graduates need the same set of skills and knowledge whether they plan to go to college or enter the workforce, said 71 percent of high school teachers in a recent national survey by ACT Inc., the educational testing company. But almost all high school teachers (94 percent) in the study said that secondary teachers lower expectations for students who aren’t headed for college. In fact, 42 percent said teachers reduce academic expectations significantly for students they perceive as not being college-bound. (2010)

It can be impressive to see schools displaying college banners and materials and to see their statements and plans so eloquently written about striving for success and using the appropriate buzz words for setting up a college culture. It all sounds wonderful, but has no value if there is an institutionalized deficit view of students and community.

Unfortunately, the new graduation guidelines in Texas put such low expectations into the high school structure. With the passage of House Bill 3 last year, Texas has a new set of graduation plans for incoming ninth graders. There are now three official tracks for graduation: the Minimum High School Program with 22 credits, the Recommended High School Program with 26 credits, and the Distinguished Achievement Program with 26 credits.

IDRA and others, including the Texas Center for Education Policy, have shown that there are in reality four tracks. Within the Recommended High School Program, there are two tracks that are significantly different. One is a “career and technology” track that is designed to prepare students more for the workforce, while the other is more likely to prepare students for college.

Students and parents must be informed that both the minimal track and career and technology track are not designed to prepare students for college. And schools should not be making college choices on behalf of students. Placing students on non-college graduation routes limits their options for a better life later on.

So, why then were these routes even offered? Clearly, the state is providing another way out for those schools that are failing to prepare our students for college. The deep-rooted institutionalized low expectations and “college is not for everyone” mentality continues to haunt our students, particularly minority students.

But lowering this academic expectation is not acceptable.

As a former high school principal, I worked collaboratively with staff to create a high level of expectations for our students. But we often were slowed by that old informal power structure with deficit views of our students and community. Our determination and efforts to create a college culture was met with low expectations mainly because of the school’s location and the students’ demographics. Reaching out to our parents and community, keeping them informed and truly engaged in all matters of their school, was critical.

As a result, the school made the Texas Business and Education Council (TBEC) honor roll three times; it was selected as one of the Top Ten Schools in Houston and its surrounding area by Children at Risk and Rice University; it was a US News and World Report bronze medal winner; and it achieved exemplary status by the fifth year. Every year, we raised the bar; and every year, our students would surpass it.

Below is list of strategies we implemented and found pivotal in maintaining a realistic college culture. If you want to see some results, everyone must be engaged in this effort.

School Services for Students

  • Increase rigor of the curriculum to ensure acceptance into and success in college.
  • Provide direct instruction in preparation for the SAT examination.
  • Expand the number of dual credit courses being offered each semester.
  • Provide a college skills course emphasizing applications and financial aid.
  • Provide a “college connection” course for transition to college.
  • Hire a dedicated counselor to assist students in preparing for college.
  • Set up visits to three to four college campuses per year for 11th and 12th graders.
  • Provide information and encouragement for students to seek out and apply for scholarships.
  • Assist students with Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
  • Offer pathways to college training for students and parents (in Spanish and English for example) through the IDRA Texas Parent Information and Resource Center (PIRC). See the free IDRA guide, Hacia Adelante ~ Pathways to College ~ A Guide for Families.
  • Hold college nights for the entire school with in-state and out-of-state colleges and universities.
  • Provide multiple links on the school’s web site directing students and parents to college and scholarship opportunities.
  • Include freshmen orientation in your school’s efforts to prepare the students’ collegiate academic career.
  • Keep the school library open in the evenings to support student achievement and computer access.
  • Set up 30 minutes of silent, sustained reading every school day.
  • Include vocabulary instruction and reinforcement in every class every day.
  • Lead writing across the curriculum.
  • Provide advanced technology courses.
  • Ensure close monitoring of student academic progress.

School Services for Parents

  • Provide information on the school’s efforts to prepare students for college.
  • Ensure true parent engagement in the school.
  • Set up grade-level parent meetings several times a year to provide critical information on passing standards and graduation requirements and assist with the college application and financial aid process.
  • Provide all information in English and parents’ home language in discussions at all meetings.
  • Provide sustained information and encouragement regarding scholarship opportunities.
  • Offer computer access to parents and members of the community in the evenings.
  • Offer technology courses in literacy, Spanish and English as a second language.

School Services for Instructional Staff

  • Instill a philosophy of valuing all students and parents.
  • Reinforce an instructional philosophy of college preparation for all students (through direct goals and objectives). Sustain the effort to change the culture that expects less of urban, minority students.
  • Do not accept mediocre work; demand excellence from the students.
  • Provide AP training for all staff at a local university each summer.
  • Lead careful discussions and analysis of PSAT/TAKS/Stanford 10 testing results with teachers and parents and adjust instruction to meet targeted needs.
  • Provide professional development to help teachers understand how better to prepare students for the academic rigors of college.
  • Prepare and assist teachers with classroom management, discipline and research.

Historically there is a high failure rate for many students who attend college. But with the above activities, my school’s percentage of students meeting college-readiness jumped from 10 percent in English language arts to 80 percent and from 47 percent in mathematics to 77 percent in 2006-07 alone.

Our commitment was to value our students and parents and to work collaboratively as a team. We provided a safe, supportive environment with caring teachers using cutting-edge innovative instruction. We felt obligated to prepare all our students and do much more. This starts with the principal working collaboratively with staff, students and community. If we don’t do what is necessary to help the students, then who will?


ACT, Inc. ACT National Curriculum Survey 2009 (Iowa City, Iowa: ACT, Inc., January 20, 2010).

Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]