28 December 2006

Evolve or Die

Washington, like many states, has a high school exit exam that is part of the graduation requirements. Students who aren't proficient with a 10th grade level of readin', 'ritin', and 'rithematic (and soon to be science) can't get their diplomas. In some ways, it doesn't seem like that great of a demand. Shouldn't 12th grade students be able to do 10th grade work? The bottom line right now is that many of our 11th graders can't, at least in the area of math. The threat that they might not graduate is enough for many schools (including ones in our district) to offer extended math courses for support.

The rub with all of that is twofold. One is for the kid. A colleague of mine likens all of this to going to PE everyday and only getting to do situps because your abs are in bad shape. You don't get to play team sports or run or do circuit training and so on. Gotta fix those abs.

The other major piece of fallout has to do with programs and teachers. Every student who takes an extra period of math is one less student who can sign up for an elective---and areas like Career and Technical Education (CTE) are starting to suffer.

According to an article in the Seattle PI, "...Educators [say] that fewer students are studying wood shop, accounting, drafting and other traditional vocational courses as districts strive to bolster basic skills. In Tacoma, the state's third-largest district, enrollment in career and technical education courses is down 5 percent this year from last year. That's about 500 fewer students taking a CTE course."

We offer some great CTE options in this district. A kid can graduate with a Windows NT or Cicsco certification, among other areas. Some of the teachers in these classes are very purposeful about reading and writing support. But others which could have a far stronger math and science connection aren't making the shift. Imagine how they could sell their programs to students by integrating the math support into shop class...or science remediation with materials science. The standards movement isn't going to go away---and these areas are going to have to adapt or they will become extinct from the schools. They have a great role in the educational ecosystem and I don't want them to disappear. Some school districts, such as Bethel, are figuring this out. "...Enrollment in CTE courses is rising, fueled by its increasing student population and offering of more 'applied math' and other classes that can meet both academic and career and technical credit requirements."

As for the kids who are enrolled in more math, working on their abs, as it were? I wonder how many of them are like this one: "Green, who said he plans to join the Army after high school, is not pleased to be in 'Math Ramp Up.' 'All I do is work on stuff that I already know and then fall asleep,' he said." If you know it, kid, how come you can't show it? Or perhaps you snoozed through your previous math courses, too?

The legislature convenes in a few weeks. One of the items to be considered is whether or not the requirement for students in the class of 2008 and beyond meet the standard in math should be continued...or put off until 2010 or 2011. Most math teachers think that delaying the requirement is a mistake and that we will be no better off in a few years. My guess is that most CTE teachers are keeping their fingers crossed for a reprieve. If that happens, I hope they find some way in the interim to evolve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm naive, but it amazes me how people don't integrate other subjects into their own curriculum. Many of the elective courses mentioned could easily be integrating math and science (and reading, and...). Maybe it's my corporate background that helps me see how everything is interconnected. Whatever the case, standards, as you said aren't going away, and I believe you see a richer, deeper curriculum (and probably more interesting) when you integrate other subjects.