By Robert Robb
Ordinarily, the state Legislature shouldn’t be dictating curriculum for the public schools. That is better left to the Board of Education, district school boards and charter operators.
However, the bill (HB 2278) removing Algebra 2 as a high school graduation requirement is an exception. It can be a start on a badly needed rethinking of the purpose of high school. In fact, the whole sequential edifice of education from high school on needs rethinking.
The current goal of high school education in Arizona is to prepare each and every student for college. This is neither feasible nor desirable.
The goal is rarely stated that bluntly. Usually it takes the formulation of preparing students for some form of post-secondary training, whether college or advanced vocational instruction.
Does every student need to know this?
But having Algebra 2 as a high school graduation requirement reveals the truth of the matter.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. John Fillmore. Education Chairwoman Michelle Udall defended the bill on the floor, according to the account of Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, by reciting the current Algebra 2 standards: “Identify zeroes of polynomials when suitable factorizations are available and use the zeros to construct a rough draft of the function defined by the polynomial….Focus on quadratic, cubic and quartic polynomials, including polynomials for which factors are not provided.”
It is undoubtedly highly useful to society to have some coterie of students graduating high school capable of doing all that. But is it really useful to society to insist that each and every high school graduate be capable of doing that? And is it fair to students to require it?
It’s not practical, which the current system acknowledges in a backhanded and highly unjust way. Students who flunk Algebra 2 can ask for some alternative to satisfy the four years of math required for high school graduation.
HB 2278 spells out alternatives that students can choose without having to flunk a course: personal finance, computer science, statistics or business mathematics.
The bill has passed the House. As commonsense as it is, only two Democrats – Cesar Chavez and Mitzi Epstein – supported it.
According to Fischer’s reporting, the opposition was based on the belief that this represented a dumbing down of the curriculum, making minority and low-income kids less likely to be prepared for college, and hence less likely to attend.
There should be a rigorous college prep curriculum available in every district high school. But the goal of high school shouldn’t be to prepare every student to go to college. It should be to equip them to make their way in the world irrespective of whether they go to college.
Educational attainment in the United States continues to creep up. Yet today, only 41% of adults 25 to 34 years old have a college degree. Having high schools whose goal is to prepare all students for college poorly serves the majority of students.
There are math skills that all adults need to make their way through life. High school should be focused on making sure all students are deeply grounded in those skills.
High school should be high school
The effect on minority and low-income students is an important consideration. But I suspect the current focus on a college prep curriculum for everyone results in more kids dropping out of high school than more kids going on to college. Or graduating from high school with a superficial knowledge of college prep stuff but without a deep grounding in the skills needed to make their way through life irrespective of whether they go on to college.
America is a second-chance society. If those who passed on preparing fully for college while in high school decide later in life to change course, Arizona has a robust system of community colleges where they can inexpensively and flexibly catch up on any deficiencies.
Meanwhile, as a society we need to rethink the extent to which job skills are credentialed through a college degree. For many jobs, that’s a hugely expensive and inefficient way of credentialing. And universities have become such woke indoctrination factories there’s a real question whether they are a net societal benefit or detriment.
Regardless, high school should be high school. Any student attending an Arizona school should have access to a curriculum that will fully prepare him or her for college. But the focus should be on giving every student the skills necessary to make their way in life irrespective of whether that includes college.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Algebra 2 sparks a rethink of Arizona high schools