The student’s sense of frustration was evident in the letter he wrote to me asking for clarification on the state’s graduation requirements. The current system requires four years of math, science, English and social studies (4 years in 4 subjects…4 x 4) if a student in Texas wants to enter a four-year state university. The intent of the state’s 4 x 4 provision fell under a tag of “college readiness.” The law suggests that one cannot be “college ready” without successfully completing the 4 x 4 requirements and earning a Texas Recommended diploma. If a student does not complete the 4 x 4 requirement, the student falls to a Texas Minimum Diploma, with negative connotations attached to it that demean the student’s work while in high school.
Before I suggest that now is the time for change, let me first share that I believe in high expectations and academic rigor for every student. There was a time when far too few of our students were considering a college education. I believe we have changed that culture. Given the high level of poverty in our school community, far more of our students that one might expect now know they are capable of college work. I also want to ensure that every possible pathway to a four-year university education is available to all our students through expanded Advanced Placement and Dual Credit offerings. With more than 3,100 AP tests taken last year (up from just 400 only a few years ago) and new Dual Credit opportunities expanding at each high school, I believe we’ve started down a successful path.
However, not every high school graduate desires or needs a university degree. In addition, our local businesses and industries need a wide-ranging work force to fill employment needs including high school graduates, holders of job certificates and associate’s degrees, as well as those with university diplomas.
That’s why I believe the proposed legislative changes offered by Sen. Dan Patrick and Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock offer flexibility in graduation plans that address the varied needs of our students and our communities. Their proposals, though slightly different, call for four years of English, three years each of math and social studies and two years of science. Most of the remaining 26 credits are essentially elective courses that allow students to dig more deeply into their personal career interests to earn “endorsements” in business/industry, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), public services and arts/humanities.
There are those who will suggest that the change from the 4 x 4 requirement is a retreat in rigor. It’s hard to argue that point; however, when the number and type of proposed credits in Patrick’s and Aycock’s bills match what the University of Texas and other Texas state universities require of their out-of-state students. In other words, we allow out-of-state students a more diverse path to university study than we do our own Texas children. Something about that feels wrong.
Students and parents are growing frustrated with the restrictive nature of the Recommended and Distinguished graduation plans. Whether or not you feel the course requirements need to change, now would be a good time to contact your legislators. The bills are being discussed now in Austin.
The young man who wrote me was going to have to sacrifice earning a Recommended Diploma because he wanted to substitute some rigorous high school courses for the fourth year of math and science he was being forced to take…courses that would mean little toward his chosen profession. It just seems to me that he ought to have that option without affecting his future.