New Standards: 2009

Last night, the Board of Education held a work session on the new graduation requirements, effective for next year’s Freshmen.  It’s more than just rising standards, though; there are additional credits required (and thus, fewer electives allowed), as well as new rules on electives.

These are mandates both by the Legislature, and by the State Board of Education.  Students will need a total of 22 credits to graduate, as opposed to the current 20.

Math is required for all four years of high school, including Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and a 4th year beyond Algebra II.  Even advanced students who begin high school in Algebra II or above, must take math each year.

The big problem for us is not the advanced students, though.  It’s those who struggle to pass Algebra 1, and who will have loads of trouble with everything beyond that.  There’s no room for failure, as repeating a class would require taking two math classes in the same year.

The number of science credits remains the same, but one of those must be biology, and another must be either chemistry or physics.  However, the sequencing has changed, so that biology needn’t necessarily be the freshman year course.

They’ve added a half-credit of "personal finance," which will be integrated into our current civics classes.  However, only about half of our freshman take civics, so there will have to be a semester PF class paired with the semester government requirement.

They’ve also added a second semester of required PE, but they do allow local boards to specify through policy that team athletics, band, cheerleading, or school-sponsored intramurals can count for the extra PE credit.  The sticky thing is, it has to be taken after the Wellness B class (our current PE requirement), and many students take Wellness B their senior year.

ALL students will be required to take (and pass) two years of foreign language.  Rare exceptions are allowed, but only if the parents and student sign a waiver stating that there is no possibility of the student attending college, upon which an additional six CTE (career and technical education) credits are required.  That would rule out the possibility of band, orchestra, or other electives.

One of the more nonsensical requirements is that three electives must be in an "area of focus," i.e., fine arts, math and science, or CTE.  What this means is that Delta cannot, as Alpha did, divide her electives between orchestra and extra science classes.

The bottom line is, today’s high school students have many fewer options than their parents did, and next year’s freshmen will have still fewer options than their older siblings did.  There is no room for experimentation — they’re essentially picking a "major" for high school.  Unlike college, there is no room for changing majors.

At 14, a student must choose a path for the rest of her life.

I understand the need for higher standards.  But i also understand that you cannot keep adding, unless you take something away, for there are only so many hours in the day.

The school board’s challenge will be to find as many alternatives as can be provided — to let participation in athletis count for that second semester of PE, to be more generous in allowing students to get high school credit for online courses (even online college courses), and to work with students and parents to meet these new requirements without putting our kids in a virtual academic prison.

What were they thinking in Nashville when they passed this stuff?


5 thoughts on “New Standards: 2009

  1. The math standard here is both unrealistic and unnecessary. Most Americans are functionally semi-literate when it comes to numbers, but a working knowledge of algebra (algebra I) is all most folks need to function well in modern society.

    One year of biological science and one year of physical science (assuming earth science counts as physical) is all the should be required for graduation from high school. Most high school kids will not get chemistry or physics anyway if they can’t cope with math beyond algebra I, unless these topics are dumbed down to the point of worthlessness.

    Missing from your discussion are the English and history requirements. I believe that the ability to read for comprehension and with critical analytical skill is at least as essential as algebra I or a year or two of a foreign language. Likewise, the ability to write clearly, accurately, unaffectedly and concisely is a key job skill in most professions. A year of American history and a year of world history would seem to me to be minimal requirements for high school graduation; to be an informed citizen and responsible voter requires a basic knowledge of our historical legacy, past mistakes and their contexts and the basic role economics has played in diverse human societies.

    High schools should offer curricula that enable the top students to reach their potential, but graduation requirements shouldn’t be geared to this cadre of student. For those whose education ends with high school, the knowledge to be a responsible citizen and the coursework that can get them into a community college later seem like sufficient and more realistic graduation standards.

  2. Four years of English (including focus on reading, writing, and literature) are already required, as are US and World History, and some other related topics (e.g., a semester of US Government).

    I think we agree on what should be required; unfortunately, the State Board of Education and the Legislature have different ideas, and these new standards are the reality we must address.

  3. I’ve never objected to addressing reality, Netmom. The reality is that by any meaningful definition definition of Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and a 4th year beyond Algebra II, most public school kids in Tennessee *will* fail to meet this standard. Unrealistic standards like this will simply incentivise grade inflation and outright academic fraud.

    Good luck trying to implement this mandate. Seems like the school board ought to invite the local representatives to the state legislature for a special meeting to explain what color the sky is in their world.

  4. I’m not sure I like the idea of four years of required math – I definitely don’t like the idea of most of the other changes.

    I think I’d be okay with the math bit if we altered the types of math courses offered. Only one section of all of the TN standards for a geometry course is actually titled “geometry,” for instance…so why don’t we allow kids who are struggling with algebra to take, say, just a semester of geometry or an algebra course that includes a unit on essential, geometrical ideas? I think most people would agree that, college-tracked or otherwise, algebra is more important. It was my experience, anyway, that most of what one learns in geometry is converted into algebra in Algebra II.

    That being said, I think the idea that these things shouldn’t be required is even worse. The exact mandate of four years of math might not be good, but, certainly, it makes little sense

  5. ((Oops, sorry, misclick. I’ll pick up from where my mouse mis-aimed, I guess.))

    That being said, I think the idea that these things shouldn’t be required is even worse. The exact mandate of four years of math might not be good, but I don’t see how we can call what our schools provide a decent education, if we don’t even guarantee that students learn the course material of Algebra II. (If they’re college tracked at all, quite a few universities want some background beyond second year algebra.)

    I guess it all depends on what one thinks of as the goal of education. Personally, I figure that, if we set our educational standards at the minimum of what is needed to “function well in modern society,” as Joel says, we’ll get exactly what one would expect – a society that is, on the whole, just barely functioning.

    We live in a world where our nation’s students already perform well behind our countries’ in mathematics and science. We also live in a world where higher education is becoming more and more important in the job market, where the well-educated from places around the world are suddenly able to compete on an equal footing with Americans, and where science and technology are developing rapidly.

    So, while it’s true that, if you consider the U.S. as somehow magically isolated, high school graduates not having a firm foundation in algebra isn’t that big a crisis, when you look at the real world, our poor, educational performance should be a cause of serious concern.

    Which is to say that, yeah, mandating four years of math right now might be a bad idea. We should do the grunt work on preparing kids for algebra to begin with, before we tweak the degree requirements. But it’s an even worse idea to forget that we should be improving our schools so that they can teach the things people need to know – not cutting out subjects to cope with our ill-performing schools.

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