One Bar For All?

I continue to read about the need for “higher standards” and “reform” and more “science and math,” and I wonder if we’re just going about all of this the wrong way. As someone who has never used anything beyond geometry, I ponder why we make every student reach the same standard before graduation. And really, we don’t anyway.

In English kids start at all different levels in high school: ELL, Transitional, or 9th grade. All we ask of those students is four years progress. Why is it different with science and math?

I’m not saying we should fail the students or lower expectations, but I know quite a number of students who will never reach Algebra II/Trigonometry levels before finishing high school. Yet, that’s one proposed solution to not passing the Math WASL or just to receive a diploma.

How about this instead? How about pushing kids into the most challenging math and science curricula who show aptitudes in math or science and helping the rest progress as far as they can? Of the 600 Freshmen who enter my high school each year, only 80-100 take AP English or College in the High School, but we seem to be pushing kids entering high school (who are far below grade level in math and science) to all begin and end at the same levels in math and science.

What ever happened to pathways? When I was in school we had plans set up to help us choose classes most appropriate for our future plans. I chose a college path, my best friend chose a trade school path, and my neighbor chose an apprenticeship path; others went into the military or straight to work.

People like to say we’re falling behind in math and science. Are we really failing the kids and the country? The kid who struggles in Algebra I is most likely not the next world changing engineer, and the kid who can’t figure out molarity or density isn’t doomed to fail his future family or his community.

Many students perform quite well in those arenas. I watch our AP Calculus, AP Stats, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP Physics classes maintain their numbers quite easily. The students’ scores in these classes look good too.

Maybe my ignorance is showing, but I’m just not seeing the crisis. The business world wants more math and science, but I don’t see those as their principle problems. Greed and deceit seem to be the business world’s biggest difficulties more than a lack of science and math students.

3 thoughts on “One Bar For All?

  1. Melissa

    You make an excellent point. I am getting very frustrated with the idea that we must prepare all high school students for a college education. Everyone does not require or want a college education to be successful or fulfilled. (Nor can most of us afford it without racking up a lot of debt!) I think it’s become politically incorrect in many places to say that some students should be directed towards work pathways instead of college pathways, and I worry about where this trend will lead us and our students.

    I also feel like a lot of services are offered in my district to students with disabilities, to ensure they reach their greatest potential in school, but I wonder if equivalent services are offered to our gifted and talented students — the ones who are more likely to go on and become “the next world changing engineer.”

    (For the record, I work with remedial and low level students at a public high school in the Deep South.)

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