This past legislative session, this board intently watched the radical educational reforms proposed, debated and passed by the members of the State Legislature. Just before the end of the regular session, both Democrats and Republicans came together to unanimously pass HB5, which revamped both testing and graduation requirements for High School this State. While this bill accomplished many good things, such as reducing the number of onerous and unnecessary standardized tests administered throughout the year and placing a higher emphasis on specialized and vocational training, this board has been disappointed by other provisions. Specifically, those that water down a strong core curriculum and unintentionally place too many students on a road to mediocrity.
Last week, the State Board of Education voted nearly unanimously to eliminate Algebra II as a requirement for a diploma. Nevermind that four years of mathematics are still required, meaning that, in today’s age of accelerated track students taking Algebra II in the 9th or 10th grades, advanced Calculus may sometimes be required for graduation even as Algebra I or introductory Geometry could be the terminal subject required for many other students.
The policy is replete with other unfortunate similarities to the failure of the No Child Left Behind Act, which this law was theoretically supposed to help assuage the damage caused thereby. Instead of focusing on promoting arithmetical competency in our students, this law does nothing but highlight a broad idea of completed years in a subject, with no respect to actual content or mastery. The law makes no distinction between those taking Pre-Algebra or Algebra II in their 9th grade years, so as long as they take anything with some semblance of mathematical content for the next three years.
While this board has long been critical of the idea of a mandatory liberal arts collegiate education, or even that of a college education always equaling a better life, we do not think that eliminating a tried-and-true graduation requirement is an appropriate way to go about this shift. Recently, we have been supportive of gubernatorial candidate Tom Pauken’s push to restore an emphasis on vocational education and training among our young people, and for similar reasons we have been excited to see specialized diplomas introduced through this legislation.
However, the lines between specialized diplomas and remedial diplomas have been sadly blurred recently, as invaluable core requirements such as Algebra II are removed and serious questions persist about how the different educational tracks will be encouraged. In the new system, students may choose between an assortment of vocational tracks or a traditional, liberal-arts diploma, now named the “distinguished option.” Only in that latter option will students be eligible for benefits such as the Top 10% (now the Top 7%) rule for automatic admission into state universities, and otherwise will not be penalized when applying to colleges and universities.
While there is not necessarily all that many problems with having multiple tracks in high school, some of which that may not lead to college, this board remains extremely concerned about the way students will enroll within these tracks. While some Democrats had advocated for all incoming Freshman to automatically be placed into the distinguished, college-bound track, requiring an unequivocal opt-out for the vocational tracks, this amendment was not ultimately adopted. Instead, the students will simply choose from among the many options with little counseling on how such a profound decision could affect their future.
As Sophia Arena, a Texpatriate Staff Writer, has previous said, the quandary may end up being “a short-term solution that causes a long-term problem” for many, as young and brash Freshman choose an easier track without understand the full implications of the choice. We need to be preparing students for the best. That may be a professional or vocational career, but either way, watering down benchmarks and eliminating opportunities at younger and younger ages are not the correct ways to go about it.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey & Noah M. Horwitz of Boston and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Sophia Arena of Houston also contributed to this editorial.