Higher Expectations

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.
* * *

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.

* * *
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.

5 thoughts on “Higher Expectations

  1. Although I haven’t thought it completely through, a few candidates for deletion as REQUIRED courses would be Wellness A (which is sort of like Health, but that’s covered pretty extensively in middle school) and Wellness B (Phys Ed) for those students participating in school sports, or outside sports that can be verified (i.e., ACAC swimming, competitive soccer leagues or rugby).

    Students who take two years of foreign language in middle school should receive credit for such. As it is now, they’re allowed to enter [language] II as freshmen in high school, but don’t receive any HS credit for the courses.

    I don’t think personal finance is a legitimate required course. Perhaps the best option would be to allow students to “test out” of some of those requirements.

  2. Sounds like an opportunity for public schools to find more ways to think outside of the box of traditional education methodology.

    I agree that the wellness classes shouldn’t be required for those who participate in sports. Personal finance, a very valuable skillset that ALL kids need (and very few get from parental example considering the national stats on personal debt), is covered to some extent at the middle school level in the Teen Living class and was a part of my own economics class in high school.

    ORS already have some excellent expanded offerings at the middle school level; and since many standards (NCLB for one) focus on the high school level, perhaps the relegation of more non-required courses should be to the elementary and middle school levels. There’s no reason foreign language can’t be taught at the elem level – studies show that the younger a child is when exposed to a foreign language, the more likely he or she is to succeed in eventual fluency.

    As for credit, perhaps more testing-out-for credit options should be explored. Many colleges accept CLEP, Dantes, and RECP(?) tests for credit. Maybe public schools can offer support for such tests.

  3. Why not let students test out of subjects at the beginning of 9th grade, so resources can be used more efficiently?

  4. That’s kind of what I had in mind, Punk HP. I don’t yet know if it’s possible to “test out” for high school credit, but I’ve submitted the question. However, I would want to leave it open for students to do so at any point through high school, not just at the beginning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *