Texas Legislators Need Detention

Graduation requirements for Texas students shouldn't be weakened.

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Students solve problems in Crystal Kirch's pre-calculus class at Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. A growing number of teachers are implementing what is known as "flipped learning," in which students learn lessons as homework, mostly through online videos produced by teachers, and use classroom time to practice what they learned.

Do some Texas legislators need detention? They must, considering that the state House recently approved a bill that would weaken graduation requirements for certain students, allowing them to earn a diploma by taking fewer math and science courses.

Lower standards tell students that they don't need to work hard and leave more high school students unprepared for college and the workplace. And the consequences are worse for minority and low-income students. They are disproportionately affected by weakened standards, because it is less likely that they would know the importance of taking courses that would help them compete.

What message are legislators sending to these students? Will the students likely give up if they take hard classes? What little hope and confidence do these legislators have in our children!

How about challenging high school students to think, analyze and tackle difficult math and science problems? If a student believes that taking too many exams is hard or skipping advanced courses for a lighter load is a better deal, just wait until he or she goes to college and needs to prepare for finals or has to figure out complex work problems in a stressful environment.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

I know we can all remember the days of sitting in algebra class asking ourselves, "why will I need algebra or chemistry in the future?" The answer was and still remains that advanced math and science classes help high school students develop their analytical and cognitive skills and better prepare them to compete in college and the workplace.

Business organizations, employers and minority advocates agree that the standards should not be weakened. Softening graduation standards would lead to a tremendous shortage of workers in key fields and dramatically impact Texas' economy in the long-term. More and more job fields require some form of higher education, and the pressure is on for schools to adequately prepare our students to compete both nationally and globally and help drive economic growth.

Latino organizations such as LULAC stressed the importance of maintaining a rigorous curriculum, which has already led to the increase of Hispanics graduating from high school in Texas. The current requirements for graduation have also narrowed the achievement gap, especially among the state's minority student population. In a letter to the Texas senators, LULAC national president Margaret Moran shared that "the percentage of Latino graduates meeting the state's college and career ready definition ... has increased markedly from 21 percent to 42 percent."

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is a College Degree Still Worth It?]

Supporters of the legislation argue that the lowered standards will give flexibility to individuals who may not want to attend college. However, ACT research demonstrates that high school students require the same level of preparation in reading and mathematics, whether they are preparing for college or a workforce-training program.

Texas will need to decide if it wants to become the next California or remain a national leader in job creation, investment and innovation. The state of California softened its graduation requirements, which has led to far poorer performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and lower completion rates in college or post-secondary settings.

Texas has made tremendous progress in increasing the number of students who graduate high school and who are workforce or college-ready. Rolling back requirements would only stall this progress, and other states should not follow Texas' experiment. By following a strong and rigorous curriculum, students can meet the complex and demanding needs of the workforce, which is overall beneficial to their future, Texas and our country's economy.

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