02 August 2007

Math and Science Requirements

Minimum graduation requirements vary from state to state (and even district to district). In Washington, the traditional readin', writin', and 'rithematic areas stand at 3 credits for English/Language Arts, two for math, two for science, and three for social studies. Many districts (92%) in Washington choose to exceed the requirements for English while few (18%) do so for science. The state will be adding a third credit of math to its requirements around 2012, but there is no agreement about what coursework might qualify. Science, the ever present stepchild, isn't mentioned. (There's more on WA requirements and changes to math here, if you're interested.)

I have no doubt that the news to the increased requirements is good news for math teachers---and certainly more math can lead to better college success for those who attend. But I have to wonder if anyone has thought about all of the impacts to other teachers and programs that this increased math demand will have. As it is now, kids might not have the three credit requirement, but if they don't meet the standards on the state math test, they have to stay continuously enrolled in a "rigorous" math program as an alternative path to earning a diploma. Districts are already having quite a time trying to fill their math positions with qualified teachers. When they need more, where will they come from? How many fewer world language programs will we have as a result of the fewer number of children available to enroll in electives? (It isn't clear from the article linked above if the increase to math credits will be matched by a decrease in some other area...like electives.)

I am, of course, a proponent of more science requirements for high school graduation; but at some point, I think we have to consider what kind of science that will be. It's one thing to say "three credits" and quite another to think about what modes of thinking we need to help develop in kids to be successful after high school. I think that's true for any subject area. Can we say with any certainty now that we know the skills graduates will need for those kiddos who will be entering kindergarten in the fall? How do we do that? Can we even anticipate the changes in technology over the next thirteen years? Educational systems are woefully slow to change---can we make good decisions "in time"?


Clix said...

Is your high school 10-12, then? Otherwise the requirements seem kind of thin.

The Science Goddess said...

Students earn credits for grades 9 - 12 coursework, regardless of how the schools are configured.

I agree that it does seem a bit thin.

Dr Pezz said...

My school has about 200 students doubling up on math this year, losing their electives in the process. Not only does this affect the staffing of the school and elective programs, but it can eliminate the passions of students. Many students attend or pass classes ("cuz they have to") to keep their electives and maintain their eligibility for elective activities.

I'm all for increasing the number of basic skills students possess, but I fear that the elimination of electives could result in an increase of drop-outs with certain populations, namely those already at-risk.

The Science Goddess said...

Someone I work with likens this type of thinking to "going to PE everyday and only doing sit-ups and other things to work on your abs...because your abs are the least in shape part of your body. You don't get to play pickleball or run or whatever until the abs are in shape." That really is an interesting analogy to me.

The at-risk population is the one which is likely most at need of getting a quality education before leaving high school so that they have some opportunities---but I'm not so sure that the way we're going about it is the right one.