Texas leads the nation in test-based accountability for public schools, but now legislators may ease rigorous graduation requirements, reports the New York Times. Currently, high school students must take four years of English, math, social studies and science, unless their parents sign an opt-out form, and pass 15 end-of-course exams. A bill that’s already passed the Texas House would let students earn a diploma by passing five exams and taking only three years of math and science.
Not all students want to pursue a bachelor’s degree, argue the bill’s proponents.
Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, the Republican from Killeen who sponsored the House bill (which passed 147 to 2), said the revised curriculum would give students more options, including community colleges or technical schools. “I don’t want them to have to choose up or choose down,” Mr. Aycock said, “but choose what’s right for them.”
Critics say low-income and minority students will be tracked into lower-level classes.
“What we all know is when you leave it up to kids and schools, the poor kids and kids of color will be disproportionately not in the curriculum that could make the most difference for them,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial minorities and low-income children.
Texas’ graduation requirements are the toughest in the nation, especially when it comes to exit exams. Since the requirements went into effect in 2007, the graduation rate has risen from 63 percent to 72 percent. More low-income students are taking at least one Advanced Placement exam.
Lowering expectations means a “return to mediocrity” in Texas, argues Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.
The bill establishes a “foundation diploma” with 13 required courses and cuts exit exams in “almost all the tougher courses,” Finn writes. Standards will vary widely: Without state end-of-course exams, schools and districts will be apt to “put rigorous-sounding labels on easy courses.”
. . . since district superintendents will be tempted to offer only the courses that the state mandates, lots of young Texans—most of them likely poor or minority—will be left with no access to classes that would do the most to propel them to success in higher education and beyond.
Texans are debating whether every high school student needs to pass “advanced algebra” to earn a diploma, Finn writes.
. . . the nationwide “college for everybody” push has gone too far, particularly if what’s meant is a classic four-year liberal-arts degree. But in today’s economy, even young people headed for industry need plenty of serious math. It’s irresponsible not to give all of them such career options—and irresponsible also to suppose that sixteen-year-olds are in the best position to make lifetime decisions that they may later regret.
I understand the risks of letting students choose an easier path to a diploma. But I think many students need a choice between real college prep (you’ll have a good shot at earning a bachelor’s degree) and real career prep (you’ll have a good shot at earning a vocational certificate or associate degree).