The Texas state senate will soon take up a House-approved education bill that would lower high school graduation standards and eliminate Algebra II as a required class.
House Bill 5 scales back high school core curriculum requirements in math, science, and social studies for Texas high schoolers. It also reduces the number of standardized tests students must take between 9th and 12th grade from 15 to 5. But the most controversial reform has proven to be the change to the math curriculum: students no longer need to take Algebra II in order to graduate.
The bill was passed by the Senate Education Committee and will now face the full chamber. In the House, it won approval from all but 2 of the 150 Texas representatives, according to The New York Times.
Opponents of the bill worry that lower standard will reduce minority students’ odds of graduating — or even attending — college. They worry struggling students will choose the easiest classes, leaving them unprepared for higher education.
“We think a lot of kids, in particular minorities, will opt for the easy route, which might not allow them to succeed beyond high school,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Proficiency in mathematics has been shown to largely correlate with college success — a fact that civil rights groups cited when battling similar education reforms in California earlier this year. Education administrators in the Golden State dropped Algebra I as a graduation requirement for eighth graders, prompting an outcry from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco.
“The reality is what we’re now doing is lowering the standards,” said Kimberly Thomas Rapp, executive director of the committee, in a previous interview with The DC News Foundation.
That Texas would follow California’s lead in lowering its K-12 requirements is a sign of the times. In 2006, Texas led the nation in approving tough graduation standards. But in the past two years, the federal government has increasingly pushed states to be on the same page when it comes to education. So far, all but two states–Texas and Alaska–have signed on to the Common Core Initiative, a comprehensive federal curriculum guideline.
Common Core does not require Algebra I for elementary school students. It does require some algebra for high school students, but not Algebra II.
The bill’s weakening of the standardized testing regimen has also generated controversy.
In Texas, a majority of students fail their college readiness exams. But if they took fewer exams, kids would be even worse prepared for college, some the bill’s opponents.
The tests keep teachers–who routinely give students overly generous grades–accountable to their students’ performances, said Hammond.
“We think the material are not being taught, or learned, or both,” said Hammond. “The only way to ensure the materials are being taught and learned is a test that’s devised by someone other than their teacher.”
Sen. Dan Patrick, a Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee and helped the bill win approval objected strenuously to the idea that students should be tested so frequently. It was a notion peddled by the test-taking industry, he said,
“Their mission is to create as many tests as they can and then grade them at as little cost as possible,” he said in a statement.