Algebra II or welding?

 States are dropping college-prep-for-all requirements  in a school standards rebellion, writes Stephanie Simon on Politico

Florida students no longer need chemistry, physics or Algebra II to graduate from high school. Texas just scrapped its Algebra II requirement. And Washington state has dropped its foreign language mandate.

. . . They’re letting teens study welding instead of Spanish, take greenhouse management in place of physics and learn car repair instead of muddling over imaginary numbers.

The college-for-all idea is elitist, say career-tech proponents. With rising college debt and more film studies graduates working as bartenders, there’s growing interest in “middle skill” technical jobs. 

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been talking up vocational education recently, but they want all students to have college-level skills, writes Simon. “Especially worrisome” is “the risk that low-income and minority students, as well as children with disabilities, could be pushed into the vocational tracks.”

New Mexico state Rep. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat, has introduced a bill to drop the Algebra II graduation requirement. “We are supposed to be doing college and career readiness, not college and college readiness,” Stewart said.

Indiana State Rep. Wendy McNamara, a Republican, wants to design a vocational diploma with input from local employers.

College prep has crowded out vocational options, argue The Jobs for Texas Coalition. “For 20 years, we’ve been ratcheting up the rigor required to get out of high school, and we started to see unintended consequences,” said Mike Meroney, a spokesman for the coalition.

Letting kids opt out of college prep doesn’t mean they’ll spend a lifetime flipping burgers, Meroney said. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists two dozen fast-growing occupations that don’t require higher education and pay $35,000 to $55,000 a year, including heavy equipment operator and car mechanic. “What is the real purpose of education if not to prepare your students for jobs?” Meroney said. “Seriously. That’s what we keep asking.”

While Texas has dropped the Algebra II requirement, Minnesota and Connecticut are phasing in Algebra II mandates, writes Simon. 

New York set new college-ready benchmarks, but won’t expect graduates to be college ready till 2022. Louisiana is aiming for 2025.

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Comments

  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    ”Especially worrisome” is “the risk that low-income and minority students, as well as children with disabilities, could be pushed into the vocational tracks.”

    In that case, they will never become lawyers or professors or Secretaries of Education. But in that case, they will also not be college track dropouts, or college track graduates with few useful skills and uncertain prospects.

    There are always trade-offs in this world.

    • Exactly. When looking at an 8th grader who is behind in math and reading (or at grade level/above grade level and showing little interest in school but great interest in something that could lead to a livelihood), you have to apply some numbers. How many kids at this level have ever made it through college? How much (and what kind of) remediation was necessary to make that happen? What sign of interest/willingness would tell us that this kid could be the exception? We do need to be respectful of the “second chance” phenomenon, but we need to make sure that it’s the student who wants the second chance, not the system insisting that every child must be prepared for college.

      • We also need to make sure every child has a first chance. Full inclusion, whole class teaching has resulted in very few K-2 students receiving instruction in their zpd. They struggle mightily until middle school remediation is available, or they coast.
        My child should have succeeded in math…educated parents, stable family, nonpoverty, not poor, exce.lent attendance,.but the firstyear of nclb and full inclusion did not offer grade level math. Neither did the next, or any subsequent years…the affluent quickly hired tutors or obtained math textsand taught their children whole the school continued to do little, and that little inappropriate for many.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        If the kid is far behind in math and reading, he’s not going to make it on the vocational track either. Welders, CNC operators, mechanics, etc. all have to be literate and good with numbers (especially good with numbers.) If we don’t improve elementary school math curricula, vo-tech will become no-tech.

  2. All this sounds pretty sensible to me.

  3. Let me add: the tracking that was done in the bad old days was tracking based entirely on the student’s race, gender, economic status, or perceived disability. Even students who were doing fine in school were slotted for non-academic classes, based on teachers’ perceptions of what occupations would be open to them as adults.

    Tracking like that will not happen again. What is being proposed is, rather, the existence of options. It will not be easy; some technical classes are very expensive to teach and some call for skills that not every student can develop. Many technical occupations are FAR more demanding than some of the softer college majors.

    And, there will still be students who just don’t cut it in any demanding curriculum. This will be true in high-income high schools too — New Trier High School, highest ranked in Illinois, sends 90% of its grads to college but only 60% graduate.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      “[T]he tracking that was done in the bad old days was tracking based entirely on the student’s race, gender, economic status, or perceived disability. Even students who were doing fine in school were slotted for non-academic classes, based on teachers’ perceptions of what occupations would be open to them as adults.”

      Really? Why do you say this? And when exactly were these “bad old days”?

      • I say this because it was a reality up until the 60′s in many school districts. I experienced a milder form of it when advised that I did not need to continue in math my senior year in high school because I would not need it for any occupation that women were likely to have.

  4. Interesting no one in the article even considered that physics, algebra, etc. will be snuck in while teaching welding and other trades. Not as formal as the college track, but it is a real sign of ignorance to not consider what is needed to work in the trades.

    Welding requires a knowledge of materials, thermodynamics, mechanics, etc. Not full functioning theory in each but a teacher competent in the subject matter could teach the kids a lot of physics and math without the kids realizing it. Woodworking utilizes that and is a great way to slip in a little biology/botany in teaching about the various woods and their management. If you want to improve your use of fractions, use a tape measure to layout a woodworking project. Even the maligned imaginary numbers make an appearance in AC circuits. Again, the trades don’t have to do full theoretical circuit analysis but a teacher could teach more than is required to be an apprentice.

    The one thing you won’t hear is, when am I ever going to use this in the future. Even if the testing relies on the rule of thumb or tool shortcut, such as a framing square.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Exactly! The trades aren’t for kids who can’t read or do math. They’re for intelligent people who don’t like sitting at a desk.

      • Deirdre,

        I learned woodworking and metalworking (including three forms of welding) in 8th grade industrial arts, which was a required course for both sexes back in 1976-77 :)

        I can still weld even today (it’s NOT rocket science, btw).

      • Yep! You nailed it. And one of my brothers is a perfect example: he’s a genius, but he *hates* academics and desk jobs. He’s an expert firefighter, EMT, nurse, computer and car repairman. All of which he learned by doing, by ‘getting his hands dirty’. (Though the nursing position did require an Associate’s degree.) His IQ has been clocked in around 140-145, but he couldn’t solve a quadratic equation if his life depended on it (because he doesn’t want to!)