Critics of the Texas Board of Education are concerned that the Board is watering down academic standards after a preliminary vote in favor of scrapping algebra II as a high school graduation requirement. This will shift the focus away from solely college prep and allow students to focus on vocational preparation. Additionally, Texas wants to step back from strenuous accountability policies which many fear can lead to dropouts.
According to Eric Gay of the Associated Press, revoking the algebra II requirement has been the main focus on the debate over the changes. A majority of academic experts and school administrators said it’s a key prerequisite for success both in college and beyond. However, plenty of high-paying jobs are available without a college degree or high-level math as argued by some trade groups.
The Board of Education, which is charged with implementing the overhaul for the start of the 2014-2015 school year, considered keeping the algebra II requirement despite the objections of lawmakers who approved the overhaul. In the end, though, the board didn’t defy the Legislature.
Texas will also cut back its accountability policies and standardized tests because of the belief that it causes students to drop out due to high expectations and fear of failing. The new law would also cut the number of standardized tests from 15 to 5, but the board is unable to change that.
The new law would mean that students who want “distinguished” diplomas would still be required to take algebra II. These degrees would allow them automatic admission into any Texas state university. Students who choose this path will also be required to complete STEM courses — science, technology, engineering and math.
The board removed a proposed algebra II requirement for students who choose all other diploma paths: arts and humanities, business and industry, multidisciplinary studies and public service. Students can also earn “foundation” degrees that don’t include higher math or science requirements and don’t focus on a particular discipline.
When it looked like the board might include algebra II as a requirement for most diploma plans, the two powerful sponsors of the law – state Sen. Dan Patrick and Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, made an unplanned appearance before the board to argue against such a move. An Amarillo Republican who introduced the proposal to require algebra II for STEM diplomas, Board member Marty Rowley, said that leaving the course out of all but that diploma path was what the Legislature intended with the original law.
“I feel like we serve the interests of those who have given us this charge in the first place,” Marty said, “as well as the students and the educators and the parents we represent by taking that requirement out.”