By CATHERINE SANDERSON
Published on April 09, 2010
In 2007, the Massachusetts Board of Education unanimously approved a recommended high school program of studies (MassCore), which was intended to help students become college and career ready.
The MassCore program of studies includes four years of English, four years of math (including completing algebra II or the equivalent), three years of a lab-based science (including courses in both physical and natural science), three years of history (including U.S. and world history), two years of the same foreign language, one year of an arts program, and five additional courses (such as business education, health and/or technology). These requirements were developed based on research indicating that taking a rigorous set of academic classes helps students both prepare for and succeed in college and the workplace.
These requirements are significantly more rigorous than the current requirements at Amherst Regional High School.
Although our high school does require four years of English and three years of social studies, we require only two years of math (the minimum state requirement and the level required by only 16.4 percent of Massachusetts high schools), two years of science (also the minimum state requirement and the level required by only 27 percent of Massachusetts high schools), one year of physical education and one year of health.
In contrast, most other local districts, including Northampton, Hadley and East Longmeadow, require at least three years of high school math and science.
Similarly, most districts that are part of the Minority Student Achievement Network require at least three years of math and science, including Arlington, Va., Brookline, Cambridge, Chapel Hill N.C., Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Columbia, Mo., Montclair N.J., Princeton, N.J., Shaker Heights, Ohio, South Orange, N.J., and Windsor, Conn.
Although increasing graduation requirements may lead to concerns that students will simply drop out of high school, research indicates that most students do not drop out because they have a more rigorous curriculum and/or are asked to work harder.
In fact, studies demonstrate that students of all abilities benefit from taking a rigorous and comprehensive high school curriculum: students with this type of preparation are more likely to graduate from high school, get better grades, succeed in college without requiring remedial classes, are better prepared for the workforce and earn higher wages.
Research also demonstrates that the rigor of high school curriculum is a stronger predictor of whether a student graduates from college than standardized test scores, high school class rank or high school grades.
The benefits of completing a rigorous high school curriculum are particularly clear for students of color. Both African-American and Latino students who complete an academically challenging high school curriculum are more likely to successfully receive a college degree, and the rigor of one's high school curriculum is a stronger predictor of completing college than any other precollege indicator of academic resources.
In fact, taking a rigorous high school curriculum that includes at least completing algebra II cuts in half the gap in college completion rates between white students on the one hand and African-American and Latino students on the other.
Similarly, the Education Trust, an organization whose goal is to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that particularly hurt those from low-income families or who are black, Latino or American Indian, states that "students rise to the rigor of the work they are assigned."
They, too, recommend a rigorous program of high school studies for all students, including four years of English, at least three years of science, including two lab courses, four years of math up to algebra II, four years of social studies and two years of a foreign language.
As they eloquently describe, "The Education Trust seeks to ensure that all students have access to an intellectually demanding curriculum and assignments/ prerequisites for a productive life after high school, be it in the classroom or on the job."
Perhaps more importantly, requiring that all students complete a comprehensive and rigorous high school curriculum sends a clear message that we believe all students can succeed at the very highest levels.
Catherine A. Sanderson is a professor at Amherst College, and a member of the Amherst and Regional School Committees. This views expressed in this column are hers alone, and not those of the School Committees.
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.