Texas, Florida drop college-prep-for-all

Texas won’t require all high school graduates to pass Algebra II, reports the Texas Tribune. Of five new diplomas, only the honors and STEM diplomas will require advanced algebra. The school board feared struggling students would drop out if they saw no realistic pat to a diploma.

Only half of the state’s high school graduates go directly to college, writes Sophie Quinton

Rather than a recommended four years each of math, science, and social studies, Texas students now need just three credits in each and must take five end-of-course tests rather than 15. Students will be able to earn “endorsements” in areas such as public service, arts and humanities, and business and industry. The State Board of Education is currently debating which endorsements will require Algebra 2.

Florida is rolling back college-prep-for-all requirements passed in 2010, writes Quinton.  Students who take Algebra 2 and either chemistry or physics will earn a “scholar” diploma, while those who earn one or more industry certifications will earn a “merit” designation.

Sixteen other states have made Algebra II a graduation requirement, she writes. So far, they’re staying the course.

Once a state has multiple high school diplomas, it makes a lot of sense to create a college-prep diploma, a vocational-prep diploma and a basic diploma for those with minimal skills. People worry that fewer disadvantaged students will go to college. I think more will earn a degree if they’ve chosen the academic track. And those who choose the technical/vocational track will have a decent shot at success.

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  1. Since when did Algebra II become ‘advanced’ Algebra? PreCalculus is true advanced Algebra…

    • The traditional sequence in the late 70’s and early 80’s for a college bound student where I went was:

      Algebra I (9th grade)
      Geometry (10th grade)
      Algebra II/Trig (11th Grade)
      and one additional math course (recommended)

      I guess we’re just lowering standards again. A STEM diploma at the high school level sounds like a first class joke to me.

      • Especially when you see how the high school science classes (intro chemistry, intro biology, intro earth science/astronomy, intro physics) are ‘taught’…

        • There was no ‘intro’ to ‘earth science/biology/chemistry/physics/anatomy’ in my day. You were either ready for it, or you weren’t.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        As a counterpoint, in the early 1980s the private, Jesuit run, prep school I attended went:
        9) Algebra I
        10) Geometry (proof based, though)
        11) Algebra II
        12) Trig


        Lots of kids were a bit accelerated, but the majority were not … and something like 98% of the seniors went on to college (which was the point … )


        We might be lowering the standards, but not relative to where I went to high school in the early 1980s.

      • For a college-bound student, sure. But in the past, there were alternative pathways for non-college-bound students. If you look at (to be specific) the texas graduation requirements, they’ve been increased markedly over the years. http://www.tea.state.tx.us/graduation.aspx – note that a student who entered in 1998-2000 would be required to take 3 credits of math including algebra 1, a student who entered 2001-2006 would be required to include algebra 1 and geometry, a student who entered 2007-2012 would be required to do algebra 1, geometry, and a third from an ‘approved list’ which starts with algebra 2. There are a bunch of esoteric courses listed but quite frankly I doubt most high schools offer them.

        I don’t think that we should deny a basic, general diploma to someone who can’t hack algebra 2. I have no problem requiring it for a college-prep diploma and telling someone who doesn’t have a college-prep diploma to go to the community college first.

  2. My older kids attended a very good suburban school with a particularly strong math/science program. The top math sequence was (real) honors algebra I in 8th, followed by honors geometry, honors algebra II/trig, elementary functions & analytic geometry and AP calc BC. The honors sciences were honors freshman lab science, honors bio, honors chem and honors physics. Many kids took an AP science and many took more than one – and all AP sciences were double period every day and had the honors course as a prerequisite. Taking an AP meant taking two sciences in one year. One of my sons took this sequence: (1) honors lab sci (2) honors bio and honors chem (3) AP chem and honors physics and (4) AP physics, calc based with concurrent enrollment in AP calc BC. Of course, any kid taking that kind of sequence would be taking APs (all with honors prereqs) in history foreign language and/or English. The three AP sciences all had at least 85% of the kids getting at least a 4 on the AP test.

    • That was in the late 80s and the 90s. The last I heard, they still have the same program, including the honors prereqs for all AP courses.

      At the same time, there many kids – in some schools, most – who will never be able to pass algebra II. Many aren’t capable of academic (REAL college-prep) HS coursework. Why should they not have good vo tech options, where they can be successful – and unlikely to be outsourced. There are also many spec ed kids who aren’t capable of any academic work. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work.

  3. I won’t talk about the math standards, but in the sciences, a true college prep curriculum is hard. I teach at a homeschool co-op, and I use a book that is used for advanced biology in public high schools. While the material about the carbon cycle or basic ecology is pretty simple, the students are learning about proton gradients in metabolism and the basics of DNA replication, transcription, and translation. My kids do fine, but we use manipulatives (I’ve recently discovered how helpful feltboards can be) because high school kids struggle to understand entire processes that you can’t see. Their parents can’t help them because they were never taught this material. While I remember doing a little bit about photosynthesis in high school, I never saw most of this material until I was in college. I’m glad that students are seeing it, but it takes a lot of work to help them to really understand it. They come to high school expecting to learn about the parts of a plant, but they’re being taught about tRNA. I don’t know if all high school students are able to understand so much ‘theoretical science’.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      The answer is no. The only question is whether the proportion who can’t understand in a reasonable amount of time is 10%, 50%, or 90%. My own wildly impressionistic guess is that about 80% can’t.

      • I don’t know if I’d say as high as 80%, but I agree that a lot of students can’t really understand it. I taught the same material at a CC and always had some students who just couldn’t get it. I structure my class so that real understanding + knowledge = A, but ‘basic familiarity + memorization = B or C’, and I’ve never had a student who did all of the work not learn enough to earn a C. That being said, homeschool kids and students entering pre-health fields are not representative of the population as a whole. A lot of the less able CC students drop in the first few weeks. I also put a lot of work into having students do simulations – they draw or make models, which gives them something concrete to work with. Still, I had friends back in high school who were good people but I doubt they could have learned a whole lot of abstract material – they really struggled with basic algebra and chemistry. I’d guess that it is a combination of ability, effort, preparation, and expectation, but just demanding success in high school wouldn’t have helped.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          I think more than 20% could get “basic familiarity + memorization.” Right now I actually think less than 20% could get “real understanding + knowledge.”

          Fortunately, few jobs in the health field–or any field for that matter–require more than “basic familiarity + memorization.”

    • Can’t cite anything to prove this, but I do think that the immense power and money that’s based in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries has something to do with the way HS Biology (and even college Biology) has migrated to biochem instead of study of individual animals and plants, organ systems, ecosystems, systematics, physiology at a more gross level, etc.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        I think it’s more that most modern biological research is in these areas. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a damn poor reason to try to teach it to ninth graders. Or twelfth graders. AP students might be different.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        If you are a graduate student in biology, preparing for a career in biology research, most of the job openings available to you will be related to “biochem instead of study of individual animals and plants, organ systems, ecosystems, systematics, physiology at a more gross level, etc.”