As I've written about repeatedly on this blog, I think the key thing for the School Committee, the Superintendent, and the community to grapple with right now is what do we value in our schools -- and our schools should clearly reflect those values. We've talked a lot about issues of music instruction in the elementary schools and world language in the middle school, so in this blog posting, I'm turning to focus on the high school, and in particular, the high school course offerings that we REQUIRE (which I think is a good way of indicating what we value).
To make this comparison, I chose 10 Massachusetts districts. These included some of our neighboring districts (Northampton, Hadley, Hatfield, Belchertown, Longmeadow, South Hadley), plus the other two MA districts that, like Amherst, are part of the Minority Student Achievement Network (Brookline, Cambridge) and two well-thought of MA districts (Newton, Framingham). Here is what I found:
English - All of these districts, including Amherst, require 4 years.
Math - Amherst requires 2 years (4 trimesters). Belchertown, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, South Hadley all require 3 years, as do Newton, Brookline, Cambridge, Framingham. Only Longmeadow requires just 2 years.
Science - Amherst requires 2 years (4 trimesters). Belchertown, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, South Hadley all require 3 years, as do Newton, Brookline, Cambridge, and Framingham. Only Longmeadow requires just 2 years.
Social studies - Amherst requires 3 years (6 trimesters), as do Belchertown, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, South Hadley, Newton, Brookline, Cambridge, Framingham, and Longmeadow.
World language - Amherst requires none. Belchertown and Hadley require two years, as do Brookline, Cambridge, and Framingham. Newton, Longmeadow, South Hadley, Hatfield, and Northampton also require none.
So, this review suggests that our basic requirements for high school graduation are lower than that of these comparison districts in both math and science, and lower than some other districts for world language. Although many students at Amherst Regional High School can and do voluntarily take more years of math/science/world language, I'm not clear why we are setting lower standards for our students than the standards set in other districts (and surely our students are just as capable of mastering the same material as those in these other districts). In the current system, a student could leave our high school with geometry as the highest level math class completed AND biology as the only core science class completed, and this lack of higher level math and science would shut the door on many college majors. Increasing the rigor of our graduation requirements would help show that our district holds high expectations of ALL students and that we are confident ALL students can master higher level material across disciplines. This strikes me as a valuable way to show our district's commitment to equity and excellence for all.
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.