School districts across the country increasingly are shattering the myth that some students can’t learn as much as others. Take the San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD). Here, educators are proving that students from all backgrounds can access rigorous curricula. For more than a decade, the district has embraced college readiness as its mission.

This case study examines the challenges and successes the leaders of SJUSD faced in navigating uncharted waters toward the destination of college-ready graduates. No other urban districts had been there; there were no models to learn from, no recipes to follow. But leaders believed deeply that the high school diploma should hold equal value for everyone, serve as a gateway to opportunity, and provide graduates with the option to go to college if they chose. Sadly, far too many students, particularly low-income students and students of color graduated with skills that would lead only to dead-end jobs and lives on the margin. San Jose educators rejected this kind of inequity. And they were determined to level the playing field.

Thus, SJUSD became the first district in the state to expect students to complete the University of California and California State University systems’ entrance requirements (commonly called the A-G requirements, see Table 1) to earn a high school diploma. Many observers thought this bold vision was doomed to failure. Yet district leaders moved forward, reaching out to stakeholders and planning for implementation.

College and Career