The daunting task of remaking Texas’ high school graduation requirements got off to an inauspicious start Wednesday as some key decision-makers scoffed at the new policy.
Some members of the State Board of Education, which is responsible for much of the new law’s implementation, said they found the changes in House Bill 5 to be ill-conceived. The bill, the Legislature’s top education priority, won unanimous approval.
“We’ve been handed this mess and we’ve been directed to work through it,” board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said at the board’s first meeting since the end of the regular legislative session in May.
A lot needs to happen in the next year to prepare schools and students for the substantial changes that go into effect in the 2014-15 school year.
Gone will be the requisite 4x4 graduation plan — four years of math, science, English and social studies — that most students have used since 2007. In its place, schools will offer several new graduation pathways, or “endorsements,” that will give students more flexibility in their courses of study.
The State Board of Education has been tasked with approving the panoply of new courses that meet the requirements of the new endorsements: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), Arts and Humanities, Business and Industry, Public Services and Multidisciplinary.
“Your work is cut out for you,” state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, told the board members. “We really believe that the board can bring that vision to life that we had.”
At least some of the board members, however, do not share the Legislature’s vision.
“Shame on the Legislature for this,” said Bradley, who added that the decision to do away with the 4x4 was a retreat from the policies that helped improve graduation rates over the past decade.
Board member Pat Hardy, R-Weatherford, questioned the legislative decision to trim some of the social studies requirements, which she said “does not reflect highly on the people that made that recommendation.”
“What freedom do we have to say, ‘No can do,’?” Hardy asked.
Education Commissioner Michael Williams, who had spoken out against the graduation changes during the legislative session, said the board members need to respect the vote by those who have the power to make the laws.
“Our job is to make it happen, so we’re going to try to make it happen,” Williams said. “We’re going to do our level best.”
On Friday, the board will hear from House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, who was a driving force behind House Bill 5. Aycock said he hoped he would be able to assuage the board members’ concerns at that time.
Among the challenges that face the State Board of Education will be finding hands-on applied courses that satisfy the demand for academic rigor, particularly for Algebra 2.
In other states that have tried to do the same, “nobody feels like they’ve got it right yet,” said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, who also had reservations about eliminating the 4x4.
Speaking to the board, Paredes said he worried the students will be asked in 9th grade to make hugely consequential decisions about which endorsement they will pursue.
“We just have to make sure they and their families have the right information to make thoughtful decisions,” Paredes said. “They’re going to need a lot of help to make informed choices.”