Update: The State Board of Education preliminarily voted Thursday night to only require Algebra II for students pursuing an honors diploma or pursuing a STEM education endorsement for graduation.
Under new legislation passed this year, high school students will have to choose at least one of five endorsement paths to graduation. The five endorsements are science and math, business and industry, art and humanities, public service and multidisciplinary studies. Supporters say the different paths will allow more flexibility for students to pursue classes they're interested in and better prepare students for college or the workforce.
Education advocates have argued whether or not all students should be required to take Algebra II. Opponents say an Algebra II requirement prevents students from pursuing courses tailored more towards their career. But others are concerned the endorsements that do not require a course like Alegbra II disproportionately affects minority and low-income students.
The board also voted to remove a speech requirement for all high school students. Instead, they say local school districts should decide whether or not students should take a speech course before graduating.
Last night's vote is preliminary and the board is expected to vote on the first reading Friday. Public testimony is scheduled for December and final adoption is in January.
Original Story (Nov. 20): The State Board of Education is hearing public testimony today about which courses students should be required to take to graduate from Texas high schools. Nearly 90 people signed up to speak about the changes to the graduation requirements.
Under a law passed during this year’s legislative session, high school students can choose from five paths to graduation, depending on their interests and plans beyond high school. At the center of the debate lies the question: should all students be required to take Algebra II?
When lawmakers crafted HB 5 this past legislative session, it was designed to eliminate Algebra II from the list of required courses to graduate. Lawmakers said they want students to follow a path that’s right for them, whether that meant going to college or heading immediately into the workforce. And they say Algebra II isn’t necessary for everyone. At Wednesday's State Board of Education hearing, some board members questioned that view, such as Geraldine Miller.
“How in the world did the legislature get on this kick about Algebra II and that kids should not take, no one should take it except in unusual cases. I don’t understand this, this dumbing down," she said.
Opponents say students are too young to decide which path their life should follow, and letting students opt out could be detrimental to their future. Anna Perez is the Superintendent of Ysleta ISD. She says Algebra II is required for admission to 2 and 4-year colleges—and preferred by employers.
“We are competing worldwide. Why do we want Texas students to know less?" Perez asks.
Opponents to HB 5 have also raised concerns that different graduation paths with different course requirements will place high-needs students on paths that are less rigorous, funneling minorities and low incomes students into the workforce.
But other education leaders say students should be allowed to take other math courses that are more meaningful to the college or career path they wish to take. Doctor Marcelo Cavazos, Superintendent of the Arlington School District, says while Algebra II is an important course, it’s a question of who decides that for students.
“Is it students and their parents is it a local school board and community or is it the state board of education?"
The State Board of Education has to answer that question Friday. Testimony is expected to continue into the evening.