Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Where Every Child is Above Average

State Education Director Ken James is trying to build mo- mentum for what the paper calls "the elimination of an “opt-out” clause" that allows high school students to follow an easier curriculum with parental permission. That's biased language. I'd just call it what it is- eliminating parental choice on whether their kids take advanced or basic courses. About 10 percent of Arkansas’ eighth- and ninth-graders this year selected the "Common Core" rather than the advanced-math laden "Smart Core" courses. Common Core selection is up to 40% in some districts.

I applaud the parents who realize that their children are not mathmatically inclined and so make the appropriate decision to put them in "Common Core" rather than the harder "Smart Core" classes. I suspect that more than 10% of parents should do that, but one cannot expect a person to be completely objective about their children. Many will put them in the advanced classes and then spend the next four years pressuring the child's teachers into watering down the classes.

Smart Core is pretty tough. It requires four units of math — including algebra I, geometry, algebra II — and one additional unit from a list of courses like trigonometry and calculus. Three units of laboratory science also are required. The alternative 22-unit Common Core requires no math beyond geometry, and only biology and a physical-science course are required.

James claims, inexplicably, that students need Smart Core’s depth of math and science instruction whether they plan to enroll in college or work as a pipe fitter. He said 52 percent of Arkansas college students require remediation upon admission and that 76 percent of Arkansas employers say recent high school graduates lack adequate math and reading skills. James may need some remediation himself if he thinks eliminating the Common Core option would reduce this problem. If percentages are that high, it is clear that many students are not getting what they need in those "Smart Core" classes. So then does it really make sense to force more students into those classes against their will and against the will of their parents?

James admits that there would not be enough math teachers to go around if he eliminated the "Common Core" option, and it sounds like a lot of the ones we have now are not getting the job done. Not that I blame the teachers. I used to be one. I know the score. Many administrations will not permit teachers to hold students accountable, whether with discipline or grades. They then blame the teachers when the students wind up unprepared in college. Then guys like Ken James come along and suggest the solution is forcing more kids into the advanced classes that are already failing to prepare 52% of their students for college.

Denying choices to parents is not the way to improve education. Dumping 40% more students in an advanced class that neither the students nor their parents want them to take is a recipie for disaster. Can you imagine being the teacher of a class where you get 40% more students who have no proclivity for advanced math and whose parents object to them being there? What a nightmare. Even scarier, James hinted that he does not need the ledge to eliminate choices for parents. He noted that the state Board of Education could eliminate the opt-out clause itself, but the move will have more impact with state lawmakers’ support.


Blogger Mr. Toast said...

This is merely an attempt at fixing a problem by switching around labels.

The moment everyone takes "advanced" anything, it ceases, by definition, to be advanced.

6:12 AM, December 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It takes a village.

9:43 AM, December 05, 2006  

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