NOTE: This is an entry I orginally posted in May of 2008 -- when I believe I had fewer blog readers (in my second month on the School Committee). A poster asked for me to re-post this entry, since it examines issues that we are now discussing at length, so I am following this request.
This post describes an article published in Science magazine in 2007 on a research study describing the link between high school math and science courses and success in college science courses (Science 27 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5837, pp. 457 - 458). This research examines the link between amounts of high school science (number of years of coursework in a given discipline -- biology, chemistry, physics) and high school math (number of years of math coursework, including whether math stopped at pre-calculus or calculus) and grades in college science classes (biology, chemistry, physics). Not surprisingly, more years of high school science in a given discipline was associated with higher grades in college science in that discipline (that is, the more years of coursework in high school in chemistry, the higher the grades in introductory college chemistry). However, more years of high school science in one discipline was NOT associated with higher grades in college science in another discipline (that is, more years of high school biology did not increase grades in college physics). Perhaps the most important finding, however, was that more years of high school math was associated with better grades in college science in all disciplines (that is, students who finished calculus in high school receive higher grades in college courses in biology, chemistry, and physics). For those who are visual learners, the graph showing this association is below (high school biology is in orange, high school chemistry is in green, high school physics is in blue, and high school mathematics is in grey).
So, what does this mean for the Amherst Regional Schools? I believe it means two things. First, we should be placing a strong emphasis on making sure that all students have the opportunity to finish calculus in high school, which is associated with higher grades across all core scientific disciplines in college (note: this means pushing for all kids to take algebra in 8th grade). Second, we should be placing a strong emphasis on making sure that we offer two years (one introductory year, one second or AP year) of each science discipline in high school, since students who have two years of a given discipline in high school perform better at college classes in this discipline. Amherst Regional High School now offers AP science classes in biology and physics, and we should add an AP or other second-year/advanced chemistry class to make sure that students who are interested in college chemistry have this option.
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.