The Texas Tribune reports that the State Board of Education, following often contentious hearings and discussions on the subject, has given final approval to a new set of graduation requirements for High School students that removes the math class Algebra II. In fact, the 15-member board (which is comprised of 5 Democrats and 10 Republicans) passed the policy with all but one vote in favor.
However, as the San Antonio Express-News notes, the board also had previously introduced two alternatives to Algebra II that could be taken in lieu of that class for some sort of credit in advanced mathematics. Statistics and Algebraic Reasoning were the new courses selected to be tentative replacements. From what I recall, my high school offered both of those courses, but its enrollment was only open to those who had successfully completed Algebra II (I took Statistics my senior year, over the great objection of my school, following a hard year of Pre-Calculus the previous year). As I have been saying for nearly a year, and will continue to do so today, relaxing standards to receive a High School diploma is a terrible idea and and even worse solution for graduation deficiencies. Rather than admit we need to revamp our education system, the Legislature is moving the goalposts closer. But I digress.
Martha Dominguez, a Democrat from El Paso, was the only member to vote against the new policy. The policy is actually a bit of nuanced bureaucracy, executive branch posturing following legislative action. Essentially, the Legislature unanimously passed a major education bill last session, which –among other actions– allowed high school students to select a diploma from one of a few different tracks. Many of these tracks did not explicitly include a requirement for Algebra II, they simply dictated how many years a student must take a math class.
Therefore, it was up to the State Board of Education to work out all the details, including exactly what kind of math class the students must take. Accordingly, this is exactly when Algebra II was put on the chopping block. However, it is worth noting that this was not done without intense pressure first directly from the Legislature. As the Tribune article notes, the Chairman of the House and Senate Education committees, Jimmy Aycock and Dan Patrick, respectively, pushed hard to make sure the math class was removed from those absolutely necessary requirements.
While there are surely many horrible, nightmarish stories about the State Board of Education, the truth is that the current board is a far more pragmatic places than many other parts of the Texas government. After the 2010 election, most of the social conservatives on the board were replaced by moderate Republicans. Namely, Don McLeroy, the pioneer of all the anti-evolution, anti-history stuff, was replaced by Thomas Ratliff, son of the famously fair and reasonable former Lieutenant Governor.
All that being said, this is still a sad day for the future of Texas education.