Given the interest people have in math/science at the high school, I did some more research today (again, using the same 10 districts as comparison points). I looked for three things: what do schools offer as 9th grade science, do schools offer AP chemistry, and do schools offer AP statistics. Here is what I found:
9th Grade Science - the first-year high school course for students varies considerably. Several schools require physics of all 9th graders (Brookline, Cambridge, Newton). Others require or offer biology for all 9th graders (Framingham, Northampton, East Longmeadow, South Hadley). Hatfield and Belchertown require earth science/physical science, and Hadley requires an integrative science course. Amherst is the ONLY district that requires ecology/environmental science.
AP Chemistry - most of these schools offer AP chemistry (Brookline, Cambridge, Newton, Framingham, Northampton, East Longmeadow, South Hadley). Hadley doesn't offer AP chemistry, but offers a second-year, advanced chemistry course for those who have finished the first-year chemistry course. Amherst, Hatfield, and Belchertown are the only three that offer only one chemistry option.
AP Statistics - schools are split on whether this course is offered. Some do offer it (Brookline, Newton, Framingham, Northampton, South Hadley). Others do not (Cambridge, Hadley, Hatfield, Belchertown, East Longmeadow). Amherst also does not offer this course.
In sum, I guess the answer here is who do we consider our best comparison district? Of these 10 schools, Amherst looks exactly like Belchertown and Hatfield across all three of these measures, and looks worse on all three of these measures than Brookline, Newton, Framingham, Northampton, and South Hadley. Given that our kids will be applying to colleges with kids from these other districts, and attending college with kids from these other districts, I believe we should strengthen our math/science offerings and requirements (and create stronger math/science programs in elementary and middle school to prepare students for this type of more challenging work).
UPDATE: In response to a question about this blog, I also looked up data for five top high schools (as based on the US News & World Report List: Belmont, Boston Latin, Newton South, Wayland, Brookline) and five top private high schools (I chose these randomly: Andover, Exteter, Deerfield, Williston, Northfield Mount Herman). The news isn't encouraging.
9th Grade Science - ALL offer core sciences: biology (Boston Latin, Wayland, Andover, Exeter, Deerfield, Williston) or physics (Newton South, Brookline, Northfield Mount Herman).
AP Chemistry - ALL offer AP Chemistry.
AP Statistics - ALL offer AP Statistics.
Again, students from these schools will compete with our high school students to get into college, and will compete with these students in college classes. I asked a faculty member in chemistry at Amherst College about the difference between a student in our intro chem class who had had AP chemistry versus one who had only had a single year of chemistry, and he said, "Night versus day." That isn't encouraging to me. I believe it is time for our district to increase the rigor of our math and science curricular offerings to help ALL our students succeed in their college academic endeavors.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.