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Math Is Dividing The Cal State Community. Here's What Happened At The Public Forum

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Sam Casey, with the group Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement speaks at a California State University meeting. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)
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Public speakers gave impassioned pleas on Thursday for California State University trustees to slow, and give more thought, to a proposal that would increase application requirements for one of the system's 23 campuses.

The proposal would require high school students to take an extra year of math, or a related class, to be considered for admission. Here are some of the classes CSU says could meet that requirement:

  • Engineering
  • Forensics
  • Veterinary Science
  • Sports Medicine
  • Environmental Science
  • Statistics
  • Economics
  • Personal Finance
  • Accounting
  • Computer Science
  • Robotics
  • Programming
  • Coding
  • Game Design

The proposal has become a lightning rod of criticism since its unveiling earlier this year, so trustees organized the Thursday meeting at the Chancellor's office in Long Beach as a public forum to hear differing viewpoints.
"This is an issue of equity that may have a huge negative impact on black and brown and other populations in the State of California," said Devonna Robertson, a San Bernardino member of the group Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement.

"I ask of you all that before you penalize our students for a broken and often mismanaged education system, you instead spend your energy and resources to build capacity in our Pre-K through 12 system statewide so our students have one less hurdle to higher education," Robertson said.

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Robertson was among four dozen people who waited for three hours to address the trustees during the public comment period. The forum, originally scheduled to last three and a half hours, was extended for an additional hour to give everyone a chance to speak.

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CSU Bakersfield student Krystal Raynes speaks out on a proposal to increase a CSU application math skills requirement. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

The first three hours of the forum were taken up by presentations delivered by school administrators, experts and advocates invited by trustees to speak about the controversial proposal, which would require high school students to take an extra year of math -- or a related "quantitative reasoning" class, like personal finance or coding -- to be considered for admission.

Opponents say there aren't enough qualified teachers to meet the proposed requirement, particularly at under-resourced schools with large enrollments students of color. Some students and other opponents aired their objections at protest rally outside of the trustees meeting.

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Proponents argue that incoming freshmen would be better prepared for college-level courses.

"After controlling for socio-eeconomic status" in a study of high school students' college achievement, "the odds of earning a bachelors' degree increase with each additional math course taken in high school... with the greatest gain coming with the course after Algebra 2, which is the last course we require for admission," said CSU San Marcos Math Professor David Barsky.

At the end of the forum, CSU Chancellor Tim White thanked everyone who spoke in support or opposition to the proposal and claimed a bit of victory for the plan because he didn't hear anyone say high school graduates don't need additional math skills.

"I'm... impressed with the near unanimity on the strong alignment on the goal here," he said.

But at least one trustee wants to put the breaks on the plan. During the forum, CSU Trustee Silas Agbrego suggested CSU postpone a vote until there's more input. That led some of the plan's opponents to claim a partial victory.

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"I heard a lot of questions raised around whether we have adequate evidence before we make a decision and right now there is not adequate evidence," said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of Education Trust West and an invited presenter.

Thursday's forum was attended by only a portion of CSU's 18 appointed trustees.

UPDATE, Sept. 2, 11 a.m.: This article was updated to correct the location of the forum.