Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tougher high school requirements up for vote

I agree with Ed Fuller quoted below. More math and science requirements without adding new quality teachers and filling current teacher spots taken by teachers who aren't certified to teach the courses they're teaching--is problematic.
Putting the cart before the horse again. -Angela

Tougher high school requirements up for vote
Board may force students to take math their senior year.
By Jason Embry
Thursday, September 14, 2006

High school seniors often have some flexibility in deciding which classes to take, and many choose not to take math. But that option would disappear under a plan that the State Board of Education will consider over the next two days.

The Legislature said earlier this year that students must have four years of math and science, instead of three, to comply with the state's "recommended" graduation plan, which schools strongly encourage but do not require. Officials at the Texas Education Agency interpreted that to mean that students could continue to pick up one of those math requirements in middle school, as many students do when they take high school algebra in the eighth grade.

The education board will consider a proposal today and Friday that would take the Legislature's action one step further and require students to take a math class every year of high school, even if they get a head start with algebra in the eighth grade. In addition, the board will spell out which courses students can take to meet the new math and science requirements, and it is poised to leave out at least one previously accepted class that is not considered tough enough.

"It does raise the bar substantially for students," education agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said of the proposed graduation plan, which would take effect for ninth-graders in August.

In the Austin school district, half of the students in the class that graduated in 2004 had four math credits, and a third had four science credits.

Although few dispute the need for more math and science instruction, some educators and researchers question the plan's practicality at a time when schools are facing a teacher shortage, particularly in science.

Ed Fuller, an education researcher at the University of Texas, said 25 percent of Texas science teachers and 13 percent of math teachers last year taught classes for which they were not certified, according to data that he received from the state.

Fuller said he worries that Texas is moving to the tougher requirements without taking steps to quickly attract and retain the needed teachers.

"My fear is that when we do this, we're going to create an opportunity for qualified teachers to move from less desirable schools to more desirable schools, thus exacerbating the problem we have with achievement in less-desirable schools," Fuller said.

Education board member Don McLeroy, a Republican from Bryan, said he suggested requiring four years of math in high school so students would not be rusty when they reach college. "A lot of students don't take any math at all in their senior year, and then when they get to college, they have a tough time," he said.

Cherie Brune, a senior at Crockett High School in the Austin district, earned her four credits from eighth to 11th grade, stopping after taking pre-calculus, and isn't taking a math class this year. She wants to be an occupational therapist, so she's taking anatomy and physiology and interns at a hospital. She also plays volleyball and takes Advanced Placement classes in government, economics and English.

"I take my science classes because I love it and I'm good at it," said Brune, who said she is in the top 5 percent of her class. "If I would have taken calculus, I would have spent my whole senior year worrying about whether I'm going to pass."

Schools encourage students to follow the recommended graduation plan, and most of them do. But they have the option of taking a different path that requires fewer credits.

Scores on state tests indicate that math and science are the subjects giving students the most trouble. Earlier this year, 77 percent of high school juniors passed the math section of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam, and 74 percent passed science. But 88 percent of those students passed the English section of the test, and 94 percent passed social studies.

The education board will consider requiring students who follow the recommended graduation plan to take algebra, geometry, algebra II and at least one upper-level class such as pre-calculus, calculus or statistics, Ratcliffe said.

In science, students would need biology, chemistry, physics and one other lab-based science, such as astronomy, engineering or an advanced course in physics, chemistry or biology. They no longer would get graduation credit for a less-rigorous class called integrated physics and chemistry.

The board also will consider allowing students to take computer science to fulfill a math or science requirement.

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce vouched for the proposed course choices Wednesday.

In health care, "we face long-term challenges in recruiting enough medical technicians, administrators and particularly nurses," said Dr. Norman Chenven, CEO of Austin Regional Clinic and chairman of the chamber's math/science task force. "Our future work force must be ready."

With the new math and science requirements, students would need 26 credits to graduate under the recommended plan, instead of 24. Ratcliffe said that most schools have at least seven classes a day, so they would not need to expand the school day. But the requirements could make it more difficult to squeeze in electives such as band and agriculture.

Another concern is how much taxpayers would have to spend to add school lab space to meet the requirements. The cost is difficult to estimate because science programs differ from school to school, Ratcliffe said.

Austin school district Superintendent Pat Forgione supports the proposed requirements but said he would like to see a phase-in of the science requirements so schools can recruit and train more physics teachers. "When you set expectations and you build a system that supports children, they can do it," Forgione said. "But again, it might take resources."; 445-3654

Changes in class?

Current and proposed requirements for students to graduate under the recommended high school plan:

Current plan

Math: algebra, algebra 2 and geometry

Science: biology and two other courses

Proposed plan

Math: algebra, algebra 2, geometry and an upper-level course

Science: biology, chemistry, physics and one other lab-based class

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