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Proposed graduation requirements lack transparency

The DC State Board of Education's proposed new graduation requirements include many worthwhile proposals. However, some changes are more troubling, and the report does not give parents and other members of the public enough information to really comment.

Photo by clevercupcakes on Flickr.

Social studies courses will decline

In social studies, the board recommends reducing the requirement from 4 units to 3 units overall, given that "only 2 units [are] typically required for college entrance." The 3 units must include a unit of combined World History/Global Studies, a combined unit of US History/Government, a half unit of DC History/Civics, and a half unit of student choice.

The report does not discuss what reducing social studies requirements by 25% means for teachers. DCPS currently employs 148 full-time secondary social studies teachers and another 95 teachers who teach at least part-time social studies.

Nathan Saunders, President of the Washington Teachers Union, also has concerns with the proposed reduction in social studies requirements. Saunders says, "I am a certified high school social studies teacher myself, and our increasingly complex world makes social studies more important, not less important. Furthermore, social studies teaches valuable conflict resolution skills."

Fewer electives deprive students

Under the proposal, students will only be able to take an elective course in 6 semesters of their 4-year high school careers. That means one full year will include no elective courses at all.

This is a worrisome development. Students need to learn how to make well-informed decisions and that their decisions (such as course selection) have real-world consequences for career or college preparation. If a student only wishes to fulfill the minimum number of units required to graduate, the proposal unwisely limits course options that could motivate or inspire students to continue learning.

Reasons for changes are sketchy at best

Most disappointing is the lack of an accompanying analysis or a formal report for the public, parents, and guardians on how the proposed changes will improve student achievement. The report only gives at most 8 words of explanation for any of the changes.

The reason for cutting required social studies courses? "Only 2 units typically required for college entrance." The reason for another year of arts? "Promotes well-rounded students."

Does social studies not promote well-rounded students? How many years of arts are required for college? There may be good reasons for these changes, but the board does not give them. It should provide detailed rationale for each change and only then initiate a formal public comment period.

Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) spokesperson Brandon Frazier said that the current request for public comment is not "the official public comment period." Frazier says that OSSE will "provide context behind the graduation requirements" in advance of an "October 2012-February 2013 public engagement timeline."

Holding public meetings on the proposed changes is also only the first step in persuading the District to embrace the proposal. Most parents don't have time to attend Board of Education meetings, and are unable to engage with the proposed changes without knowing the reasons for them.

OSSE and the State Board of Education are currently accepting public comments on these proposed changes to the high school graduation requirements. Anyone wishing to comment on the proposal can email OSSE will propose rules based on the State Board's recommendations in October 2012; a final rule will be adopted in November or December.

Jack Jacobson is an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and community activist in Dupont Circle and a candidate for the Ward 2 seat on the DC State Board of Education this November. He chaired the 17th Street Moratorium Committee in 2009 and serves as Secretary of the Urban Neighborhood Alliance


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our increasingly complex world makes social studies more important, not less important

Sure. It was a history major that started Facebook. The most famous American historian I can come up with is Dr Gingrich.

I note that the words science, engineering and STEM are once again absent. Shameful.

by Jasper on Oct 4, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

Thanks for following this.

The high school gradation rate is an exercise in "fuzzy math" from state to state and municipality to municipality.

Does the rate look at 12th graders who graduated later that year or does it look at 9th graders who then graduate in 4 (and sometimes 5) years? What about students that transfer into that particular school system and/or those who transfer out?

As a whole public school education in this country is a disaster and DC is a "city at risk." This is nothing new. While students from Wilson and Banneker and School Without Walls and a scattering from other schools actually matriculate to college when places like Anacostia High School claim that there is a "100%" college acceptance rate they are including community colleges, cosmetology schools, and places like University of Phoenix. I don't need to explain how this demonstrates the art of confusion and obfuscation.

Ask the instructors at PR Harris or Bertie Backus how well DCPC is preparing students to simply write a sentence.

I had a 17-year old 9th grader reading at a 3rd grade level. He graduated.

President Obama wants everyone to go to "college." My cousin did not go to college. He got a trade -- airplane mechanic -- and is making $80,000 in his late 20s.

My speculation is that all this is just more of the same... dumbing everything down so these "metrics" are met so Admin folks keep collecting their paychecks.

Meanwhile, Jay Matthews week after week calls for a full investigation into DCPS system-wide cheating. Georgia got to the bottom if it. We barely scratch the surface of what is going on.

Keep up the education coverage.

by John Muller on Oct 4, 2012 10:46 am • linkreport

+ McKinley High School as legitimate DC Public high school

by John Muller on Oct 4, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

*McKinley Tech*

by John Muller on Oct 4, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

President Obama wants everyone to go to "college."

President Obama said:

So tonight I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be a community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.

by JustMe on Oct 4, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport


Thank you. Always better to go directly to the source. I agree with the quote you cite and what President Obama is saying. He is dead on.

What I was getting at is the current emphasis within the various education admins that everyone must go right from high school to college, a traditional college, is why you see charter schools and DCPS making claims that 100% of the graduating class is going to college. Maybe it is just me but when I think of college I don't think of Job Corps or a cosmetology school whose "admissions criteria" is that you can come up with the money.

I didn't mean to vilify President Obama rather it is the make believe that exists in some of these claims DCPS and other school systems peddle about kids being "college ready." They are not.

There was a story the other day about how something like 10,000 people apply to UDC but a significant amount of applicants don't actually complete it. So now they want to hire coaches to help folks with the application process -- furthering the 21st century transformation of teachers from educators to social workers / case managers. This is what I mean. UDC will say they received 10K applications and out of that they accepted 2,500 or whatever the number is. That acceptance number is mots likely the folks who turned in the application. I want to know the person who didn't get accepted to UDC... oh, wait, that is what the Community College of DC is for.

Another thing that has started to leak out in the press is how many DCPC grads go off to college and after a semester or two or three come back to the city with few credits and big debt.

This is not just a DC issue. A study the other day showed about 60% of folks graduate college within 6 years. Granted someone taking night classes and in the military could skew this number but it is without a doubt that kids go off to college and aren't ready.

All I am saying is 2 plus 2 has always equaled four and "B" has always come after "A" in the alphabet. So the problems of education are coming from elsewhere...

by John Muller on Oct 4, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

McKinley is legit but it is an application only high school. This is supposedly new requirements for high schools but what are the plans for our elementary and middle schools? See, if you're prepared well at the elem/mid school level, the high school choices are abundant. Now if you're not, then those so-called requirements become restraints which become remedial courses in college. The reason colleges are not involved in the planning portion of the DCPS plan is because our students have become the "cash cow" of the industry. Think about it .

by WoodsonWarrior on Oct 7, 2012 7:10 pm • linkreport

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