The Sentinel carries a story this morning about increased graduation requirements on the horizon for Tennessee students, as I’ve written about previously. A fourth year of math, a year of either chemistry or physics, an extra semester of PE and a personal finance course will all be required for today’s 7th graders to graduate.
I think the higher math and science requirements are a good thing, but do have some concern about further increasing the schedule compression — requirements are added, but nothing is taken away. The result is that students are allowed fewer and fewer elective options; it will likely be impossible at that point for a student to take four years of foreign language (two are usually required for college admittance) AND four years of band, orchestra, or art.
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Not all electives are "cush" classes. Smitten with physics as a junior, Alpha used her remaining electives to take AP Chemistry, Calculus, and AP Physics C as a senior. That led to an engineering scholarship for her freshman year at UT, and due to her grades (boosted by the foundation she’d built in high school), she was awarded a second, more generous scholarship this year.
When UT moved the Computer Science program into the College of Engineering at the beginning of this year, she switched from Electrical Engineering to Computer Science. I still laugh when I remember how apprehensive she was about that first required programming course — C++ — but by the end of the semester, she’d fallen in love with it.
As the program’s move between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Engineering school was rather abrupt, they hadn’t yet had time to set all the non-CS course requirements, leaving students in this year’s catalog with maximum latitude in elective offerings. Alpha loaded up on math classes, considering that she might be able to double major in both computer science and math. Not a bad foundation for grad school, which is already in her plan.
This week, she learned that she’s been accepted into the Math Honors program, which carries additional scholarship funds, as well as a paid summer research experience. MathMan (my future son-in-law) is also a Math Honors major, and his research from last summer at Texas A&M is scheduled for publication.
Alpha figures that a math degree would be helpful in the field of theoretical computer science. I’m both proud and amazed.
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Not all students are destined for the hallowed halls of geekdom, I know. However, I agree with the findings of the American Diploma Project that students today need similar skills to go straight to work as they would need to go straight to college. Higher standards are necessary and good. That doesn’t mean that every kid will or should take on the same courses that Alpha chose, but at least a basic course in the physical sciences would benefit everyone, and continuing to study math throughout high school simply ensures that they don’t forget everything before they graduate.
Yet, some requirements have got to ease, or there will be no opportunity for students to either pick up additional academic electives, or continue their studies in language or fine arts. Although Alpha has determined her career path to be something other than fine arts, she makes time in her rigorous schedule to continue her viola studies with private lessons. It serves as a release from the demands of her books and lectures. If not for her four years in the high school orchestra, would that even be a viable option?
The new standards are welcome, but as requirements are added, something must be taken away.