Algebra II may not be dead after all

The Trib reports that the Senate has unanimously passed a new version of HB5, the Graduation reform plan, but it is quite different than what passed Committee not too long ago. Essentially, that bill went something like this:

The bill, which recently passed the house, essentially does two things. First, it lowers the number of standardized tests from 15 to 5 (Biology, U.S. History, Algebra I and a pair of English exams) that are required in order to graduate. That is probably a good thing, as those pesky little tests got a little overwhelming, when you are literally sacrificing valuable teaching time to prepare kids for the dreaded TAKS test. However, second, the bill lowers the standards needed in order to earn a diploma. Instead of four years of most core concepts, the requirements are lowered to three, and certain benchmark classes, most notably Algebra II, are nixed from the requirements. The new diploma would be from a much more remedial track, whereas the old track (the college preparatory one) would be considered “honors.”

In order to qualify for the coveted top 10% program at UT or A&M, one would need the honors diploma. I would imagine it would be a biggie for most colleges’ admissions, too. I have two big problems with this legislation: the whole idea of a remedial diploma plan in general, as well as, more specifically, the idea of nixing Algebra II.

As the Tribune reports, Perry doesn’t want to significantly lower educational standards, so he was standing against Patrick’s original plan. Accordingly, with the threat of Senate Democrats derailing the bill still being there, the Senate amended the bill a little bit before it was passed. The new Senate bill requires four years of Math for all of the graduation plans. Further, all students would be put into a plan where they would be compelled to take Algebra II, and would have to opt-out. Algebra II would still be required in order to access the benefits of “Top 10%.”

Finally, the Senate bill does away with the TEA’s “A through F” rankings for all campuses, and simply assigns them to School Districts.

This is a good step in the right direction, but there are some serious flaws. For one, I have never found much of a problem with the letter grades for schools. This is one of those issues where I break with the left and the Teachers’ Unions, there isn’t much wrong with seeing how schools are doing. The Tea Party may think that an impoverished, dilapidated, underfunded inner-city school that receives a poor rating may be a reason to fire the teachers, but I doubt the majority of Texans have such a stupid view. I think that such a rating system would provide an impetus to improve funding.

Further, requiring four years of math without requiring Algebra II is an unbelievably asinine thing to do. Instead of saying how many years of math, the Legislature would accomplish its goal better by saying how much math. That is a distinction with a difference. For example, under current Texas law, all students, including those in Private Schools, must  take four years of math. Accordingly, way back when, after I finished Pre-Calculus in the 11th grade, it was a major point of contention with my school over what I would do in math. I absolutely despised the subject, but I wasn’t half bad at it, and I had some pretty ambitious collegiate aspirations. My school wanted me to take Calculus, but I preferred a less challenging course, Statistics.

The countless arguments about how I should keep taking excruciatingly hard math classes, even though I was 100% sure I would never use them, made me quite sympathetic to the idea of making High School less “one-size-fits-all.” However, my solution would have been to simply require everyone to take either Algebra II or Pre-Calculus, with no further requirement in math courses after the upper limit had been reached, even if that be in the 10th or 11th grade. Instead, the Legislature requires four years of math, but doesn’t require any even remotely advanced classes to be taken (the upper tier would be either Geometry or Algebra I). I never thought I’d say this, but let’s hope Governor Perry has more sense than the Legislature.

The Chronicle has more.

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