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JSD graduation requirements discussion continues

Board favors more credits, continues hashing out where they go

Posted: April 6, 2011 - 8:42pm

The Juneau School District Board of Education is still grappling with increasing graduation requirements.

The board got its first reading of the new requirements, as proposed by the Graduation Taskforce.

The proposal increases credits required from 21.5 — the lowest required by state law — to 23, increases math and science from two credits to three of each plus one of either, a total of seven credits between the two disciplines. It also includes one world language credit, reduces physical education and world of work.

Juneau-Douglas High School teacher Henry Hopkins said he opposed the increases in math, science and foreign language at the expense of electives. He said graduation requirements shouldn’t be based solely on college entrance requirements. He said the proposal essentially is a one-size-fits-all track to college. Hopkins said those students who do want to go to a four-year college are already taking his higher-level science courses. He said it would not benefit students who have little excitement for science and no desire for a bachelor’s degree to be forced to take higher level science.

JDHS teacher Sara Hannan expressed her approval of the increasing requirements, but told the board they shouldn’t be dictating what those courses should be — students should be able to choose in which area to apply those credits. She said students who choose to take calculus are there early, late and studying at lunch. Hannan couldn’t see that happening with students who aren’t interested in that material, nor would it be beneficial to those who are.

“I would not want to be in Andy’s (Bullick) welding shop with kids who don’t want to be playing with fire,” Hannan said. “I don’t think this moves us toward more kids graduation.”

Andy Bullick, who teaches shop courses at JDHS, said the cost of the implementing the requirements is the electives. He said he’s visited public schools in California where entire wings sit empty because of a situation like this. He said there, students have to choose a high school based upon their post-high school interests. Bullick said that isn’t an option here and not all students are college bound.

Two JDHS students, both on the student council, said they also were opposed to the increase in requirements. They said that while they can meet the requirements with no problem since they are college bound, that does not serve all students best for their future goals.

The board began discussing their thoughts by breaking down the proposal into sections: overall credits, physical education, math and science, world language, rigor, middle school implications, elementary implications and budget implications.

Overall credits

Most board members favored the increase to 23 credits as a “good start.” Board member Ed Flannigan said he was leaning toward 22.5 credits, and keeping 6.5 of those for electives.

Physical education

Board member Mark Choate said it isn’t an issue of how many credits they should require for physical education, it’s a matter of promoting and encouraging activity in students. He said there should be some rewards and recognition system developed for students who do take more physical education or who are active in sports.

Board member Kim Poole disagreed and felt physical education should be for credit and students should be required to have one period a day of physical activity. However, she also felt in order to meet that requirement they would need to consider what would qualify.

Board member Andi Story said physical education like this would be more valuable in elementary and middle school, since more students are active in high school sports.

Others felt that students should get exemptions or credits for sports — both school and non-school oriented for each semester of participation.

Math and science

Choate said students need to have math every year at some level. This can mean college-track courses or developing existing and new applied math courses such as in topography, architecture and auto mechanics.

Flannigan said forcing students into college track math courses is like fitting a square peg in a round hole. He suggested three math and three science courses, with applied courses available.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said they also have to be careful in what they name and who they have instruct some of these courses. By law, in order to receive a math or science credit the teacher must have a “highly qualified” certification. While that may not be necessary for a student to meet the high school’s requirement for perhaps an architecture/design class with a lot of math, that student also won’t get recognition from a college or scholarship program for it as math.

Board member Barbara Thurston said in discussions with the University of Alaska Southeast, the key point was students need math for longer time periods, not necessarily more disciplines. She suggested implementing several tracks — perhaps a two-year algebra course and two-year geometry course. Thurston also wanted to know if the district could implement a system like UAS, where student’s abilities are tested coming into the school. She said if a student doesn’t test well in math into their freshman year, they should be able to take a remedial course for credit to catch them up. Thurston said if they don’t know the material by that point, putting them in a harder math class where they’re going to struggle isn’t going to help.

She was more flexible with science, saying that she looks for what required subjects would benefit all students, and increasing science wouldn’t benefit all.

Story said they would be doing a disservice to all students if they didn’t require four credits of math, however she felt that three is a sufficient start at increasing requirements.

World language

Choate said there are many ways to learn world languages and our country doesn’t tend to do it well. He said people should learn a second language, but that learning should start at a young age. He was in favor of keeping the requirement in the high school, however.

Flannigan said he has gone back and forth on the issue and wouldn’t mind a foreign language credit, but settled on having that credit count toward fine arts.

Story said she would support it in younger grades but didn’t see a need for it in high school.

Thurston said while it would be ideal to have it in the younger grades, she didn’t see it being implemented anytime soon, but suggested starting it in seventh grade as more of a happy medium.

Rigor

The board recognized increasing standards is meaningless unless they also work to increase what students are expected to get out of a class.

Thurston said there needs to be a hard look at rigor for writing. She said teachers should not get to choose how many papers a student has to write and that each class needs to have a writing element.

Story said she was glad they’re finally getting to work on rigor.

Board member Phyllis Carlson said working on high school rigor will be meaningless without also focusing on elementary and middle school standards.

Further discussion

Discussion then turned to how quickly they need to work on these requirements for next year, and extending the discussion to another meeting. JDHS principal Ryan Alsup said they need to decide on the requirements as soon as possible. He must not only plan for the incoming freshmen this affects, but he also has to cut 5.5 teachers for next year. He said the requirements will dictate who those people are.

The board has to make a decision by May 1. It will continue the graduation requirement discussion portion on the remaining categories from 5-7 p.m. on April 14. The board will have its second reading and vote April 26.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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