Based on the considerable interest my blog has generated over the past few days in the discussion about 9th grade science, I am doing a separate posting that reports on data I have gathered over the last few months. As I've said repeatedly, I believe the curriculum in our schools should look like the curriculum used in other schools--because we are preparing our students to gain admission to and succeed in colleges and universities with students from across the United States. So, I've gathered data from all of the MSAN (Minority Student Achievement Network) districts regarding science education in their schools. In addition, I also gathered information from six local and statewide districts: Northampton, Hadley, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Framingham, and Newton. Specifically, I gathered the following information in all of the 23 MSAN districts plus the 6 local and statewide comparison schools:
• The number (and type) of years of science required for graduation
• The type of science courses required in 9th grade
• The presence of AP Chemistry
I hope this information is helpful as we ponder potential changes to science requirements and course offerings in Amherst.
Graduation Requirements (Number of Years, Types of Courses) in Science
Amherst requires two years of science, requires that the first of these years be a class in ecology and environmental science, and places no requirements on the content of the second required course.
Most MSAN districts require three years of high school science. Districts with this requirement include: Alexandria City (VA), Ann Arbor (MI), Arlington (VA), Bedford (NY), Brookline (MA), Cambridge (MA), Chapel Hill (NC), Cleveland Heights (OH), Columbia (MO), Eugene (OR), Farmingham (MI), Montclair (NJ), Paradise Valley (AZ), Princeton (NJ), South Orange (NJ), Shaker Heights (OH), and Windsor (CT). Similarly, four of the statewide comparison districts require three years of science: Northampton, Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Framingham.
Amherst is thus one of only 6 MSAN districts requiring two years of science. The other MSAN districts with such a low requirement are Champaign (IL), Evanston (IL), Green Bay (WI), Madison (WI), and Oak Park (IL). In addition, only two of the statewide comparison districts requiring only two years of science: Newton and Longmeadow. Thus, Amherst is in the minority of districts that require only two years (21 require 3 years, 8 --including Amherst -- require 2 years).
Most districts require some type of distribution of these courses across types of science. Most typically, districts require courses taken in either two distinct areas (usually biology is one area, physics/chemistry/earth science are in a second area) or 2 of 4 areas (biology, chemistry, physics, earth science). The following districts require some type of distribution across scientific disciplines: Alexandria City (VA), Ann Arbor (MI), Arlington (VA), Bedford (NY), Brookline (MA), Cambridge (MA), Champaign (IL), Columbia (MO), Farmingham (MI), Green Bay (WI), Madison (WI), Shaker Heights (OH), and Windsor (CT). This distribution requirement is also typical in the statewide comparison districts: Hadley (biology, integrated physical sciences), Newton (biology, physical sciences), Longmeadow (biology, chemistry), East Longmeadow (must take biology, and another science – which, given their science options, must be in a physical science), Northampton (must take biology, and another science – which, given their science options, must be in a physical science).
Amherst is thus in the minority of MSAN districts in not requiring any type of distribution across scientific disciplines (13 districts have such distribution requirements, and 10, including Amherst, do not). In addition, Framingham is the only one of the six comparison districts without a science distribution requirement. Thus, 18 of these 28 comparison districts have a distribution requirement, and 11 do not (including Amhers).
9th Grade Science Courses Required/Offered
Amherst Regional High School requires that all 9th graders take classes in ecology and environmental science.
There is a wide range of 9th grade required/offered courses in MSAN and the statewide comparison districts. Most typically, 9th graders choose between a course in biology and a course in a physical science (earth science, or a broader physical science course). This is seen in the following districts: Alexandria City (VA), Ann Arbor (MI), Arlington (VA), Bedford (NY), Champaign (IL), Chapel Hill (NC), Eugene (OR), Montclair (NJ), Oak Park (IL), Princeton (NJ), Windsor (CT), as well as in 2 of the statewide comparison districts (Hadley and Framingham). In all of these cases, 9th graders are able to choose the course that they would like to take and thus are not required to take a particular course (as used to be in the case in Amherst, but is no longer the case).
Several districts require all 9th graders to take biology. These include 4 MSAN districts -- Evanston (IL), Farmingham (MI), Madison (WI), South Orange (NJ) -- plus 3 of the 6 statewide comparison districts (Northampton, East Longmeadow, and Longmeadow).
Several districts require all 9th graders to take physics. These districts include: Brookline (MA), Cambridge (MA), Columbia (MO). Newton also requires all 9th graders to take physics.
One district (Shaker Heights, OH) requires all students to take an integrated physical science course.
So, to summarize, of these 29 districts, 13 allow students to choose between 9th grade science options, and 13 require students to all take a given class (most commonly biology, though in some cases physics and in one case an integrated physical sciences). (I was not able to find data on the 9th grade options in3 of the districts).
Not a single MSAN district, or one of the 6 statewide comparison districts, other than Amherst requires all 9th graders to take classes in ecology and environmental science (nor, in fact, are such courses ever required at any grade level in any of the other MSAN or statewide comparison districts). Given Amherst’s requirement of only two years of science, and that the first one must be in ecology/environmental science and the second one can be any course, it is distinctly possible, and even likely, that some students will graduate from Amherst High now having had only classes in ecology/environmental science and biology (the most typical 10th grade course), and thus having absolutely no exposure to any physical science (earth science, chemistry, or physics). This course taking would be virtually impossible in any of the other MSAN districts.
Presence of AP Chemistry
Amherst Regional High School does not offer AP Chemistry or any second year chemistry course.
The following districts offer AP Chemistry – Alexandria City (VA), Ann Arbor (MI), Arlington (VA), Bedford (NY), Brookline (MA), Cambridge (MA), Champaign (IL), Chapel Hill (NC), Cleveland Heights (OH), Columbia (MO), Eugene (OR), Evanston (IL), Farmingham (MI), Montclair (NJ), Oak Park (IL), Paradise Valley (AZ), Princeton (NJ), South Orange (NJ), Shaker Heights (OH), Windsor (CT), plus five of the six local comparison districts (Northampton, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Newton, Framingham). Although Madison (WI) does not offer AP Chemistry, this district offers an Advanced Chemistry course, which is a second-year chemistry course. Similarly, although Hadley does not offer AP chemistry, it does offer an advanced, second year chemistry class. In sum, Amherst is the only one of these 29 comparison districts that does not offer AP chemistry or any chemistry course beyond the intro level (I was not able to find information on the presence of this course in one of the MSAN districts).
In my review of the course offerings and requirements in science at the high school level, Amherst distinguishes itself from virtually all of the other 23 MSAN districts and the 6 statewide comparison districts in the following ways:
• having the lowest number of required science classes
• being one of relatively few districts to place no requirements on the types of science classes completed
• being the only district to require 9th graders to take a non-core science
• being the only district to require students to ever take classes in ecology and environmental science
• being the only district to not offer AP or an advanced chemistry class
One additional note, for what it is worth: I also looked up the Mass Core recommended program of studies. This recommendation is for three years of science (including a class in natural sciences and a class in physical sciences). This report notes: “high school curriculum reflects 41% of the academic resources students bring to higher education” and that “the curriculum measure produces a higher percent earning bachelor’s degrees than either of the other measures.” In addition, and importantly, this report notes: “the impact of a high school curriculum of high academic intensity and quality on degree completion is far more pronounced and positive for African-American and Latino students than any other pre-college indicator of academic resources. The impact for African-American and Latino students is also much greater than it is for white students.” I would hope that, given our district’s commitment to social justice, we have the courage to require all of our high school students to complete what is recommended by Mass Core, which would include three years of science, including a class in natural sciences (such as biology) and a class in physical sciences (such as chemistry or physics). We currently do not follow any of these recommendations.
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.