A surge of bills seeking to loosen high school graduation requirements could end up leaving many Texas students ill-prepared for college and life beyond high school, state Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes warned Wednesday.
Under some of the proposed changes, students could graduate from high school without a solid academic foundation, Paredes warned. He specifically urged legislators not to roll back certain science and math requirements.
“We need to work out differences of opinion about appropriate levels of rigor, and I think we will,” Paredes said in an interview.
Support has swelled for several bills that would reduce required courses and give high school students more flexibility in choosing a course of study. Industry and trade groups, in particular, are pushing for changes to graduation requirements allowing students not bound for college to pursue more career-related training in high school.
State Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has introduced a bill that would reduce the number of core course requirements from 16 to 12 — including two fewer science courses — opening up more opportunities for electives. He expects to pass the bill out of the committee on Tuesday and said it could clear the Senate with a unanimous vote.
Similar bills have been filed by other education leaders, including state House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen. Aycock couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
“The business community, the education community, parents and students want flexibility,” Patrick said. “The more that you require them to take, the less flexibility you have, and you end up right where we are.”
Patrick added: “All we’re doing is adding flexibility. We’re not stepping back on rigor.”
But the Higher Education Coordinating Board estimates that an additional 6,000 students a year would need remedial education to attend community college or a four-year university if the Legislature adopts the looser graduation requirements. The cost of that remediation would be about $4 million a year, according to a fiscal analysis of Senate Bill 3.
Patrick and other senators questioned that analysis during a committee hearing Tuesday. Paredes, however, stands by it.
“There are some tweaks that I think we need to make in (the Patrick bill) to assure that all children — all children — graduating from high school have a solid academic foundation,” Paredes said.
Paredes has called for retaining a third year of science, which would be physics for college-bound students while others could take an applied science course. He noted that some science issues, such as climate change and energy production, are essential for everyone to understand.
“We need our kids to come out of high school with a fundamental knowledge of science and be able to participate in thoughtful discussion about how science will impact this country,” said Paredes.
Paredes also said he believes that all graduates, regardless of their plans after high school, should take Algebra II. That course is currently required but, under the proposals, a student could take a different math-related class, such as robotics or engineering.
Patrick said he was open to keeping the science requirement but couldn’t swallow requiring the higher-level math. He said there is no support for keeping the Algebra II requirement for all students.
The proposed graduation changes are meant to help students who are at risk of dropping out of high school because they don’t see the practical application of what they are learning, Patrick said.
“I’m not going to let anyone come in and mess with the bill and weaken it” for those students who need the flexibility, Patrick said.
Loosening High School Graduation Plans
• Currently, most Texas high school students complete:
Total Credits: 26
Core requirements: 4 English, 4 math, 4 science; 4 social studies
Other components: 2 foreign language; 5.5 electives
• Under pending legislation, those requirements would be loosened. Specifics vary, but proposals generally call for:
Total Credits: 26
Core requirements: 4 English; 3 math; 2 science; 3 social studies
Other requirements: 0-2 foreign language; 8-11.5 electives; endorsements available for business & industry, fine arts and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)