Friday, May 25, 2012

Graduation, Equity, Access, and The Common Core

Some thoughts today as we approach Memorial Day Weekend and our youngest daughter takes her high school Pre-Calculus final exam.

Last night, our friends (and neighbor) oldest daughter graduated from high school and the ceremony was a wonderful evening of celebration and reflection. The ceremony was held in a football stadium with the 400+ graduates sitting in chairs facing the stands - and very ready for the next phase of their life.

As I looked at all of them - the class of 2012, I couldn't help but connect them to the Conditions of Education Report  released yesterday by the National Center for Education Statistics. Page 6 of the report provides some interesting High School data about these students. Here is some "access" data from the report:

There are about 14.9 million high school students this year and of those that are high school graduates:

88% will complete HS Geometry, 76% Algebra II, 35% Pre-Calculus/Analysis and 16% Calculus
96% Biology, 70% Chemistry, 36% Physics, and 30% all three of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.

In all cases these "Access to the Curriculum" numbers (a major equity issue in high school) are significantly higher than 20 years ago. For example, only 54% of graduates had access to Algebra II, 7% access to Calculus and 19% access to all three of Biology, Chemistry and Physics. It is important to note as well, that these numbers are for graduates that received a carnegie unit for the course (IE: received a credit and passed).

Considering the Common Core era has established college and career readiness standards for mathematics that includes content through Algebra II and more, it is a very good thing that these access to the curriculum numbers are on the rise. And yet, as I watched the 400+ graduates last night receive their diplomas, I wondered how many of them would have been prepared for the assessment expectations of the Common Core in 2015. What a shame, it seemed to me, that on average only 30-35% of them nationally will have taken three years of science through Physics and three or four years of mathematics through Pre-Calculus - which describe and provide many of the high school Common Core  "Plus" (+) standards by the way.

Equity requires access to the schools' college preparatory curriculum, and then it also requires a successful learning experience for every child once that access has been granted. Mathematics and Science for too long have been known in high school as the great selecting and sorting disciplines - after all, the "Hard" Sciences got that name for a reason.

The Conditions of Education report is good news in terms of access to the curriculum growth. But it is not nearly enough. High School Mathematics and Science teachers and school leaders must be willing to redefine the student learning and assessment classroom experience for every student in this Common Core era - the CCSSM and the  Next Generation Science Standards demand we respond positively.

To that end, in Mathematics, I have worked with many of my colleagues to provide specific research affirmed support for a coherent and focused teacher response to preparing every child for the college and career standards and expectations of the Common Core. Titled Common Core Mathematics in a PLC at Work, High School - I invite you to take a look and see if it will be of support and use to you.

I will warn you that parts of the book will create a bit of cognitive dissonance for the teacher reader. It stretches us into new ways of thinking about how to address the successful learning of the high expectations of a high school college preparatory curriculum. It is not easy, but it will be worthwhile and needed - especially as more students than ever before gain access to Algebra II and Pre-Calculus courses that meet the expectations of all of the Common Core High School Standards.

And why mention Science? Because these same students will need access and success in the parallel courses they are taking in Science - and many of the teaching and learning, and assessing strategies in the book work for Science as well. I know this to be the case - based on my 8 years as Director of Mathematics and Science at Stevenson, and the many many lessons from Science that helped our Mathematics programs to improve.

Recently, I read an article in a local newspaper in which a school board approved "Lower level" mathematics courses for high school students. A move that essentially will deny certain students access to a college and career preparatory curriculum - essentially lowering the bar for these students - in mathematics and in science. This is not the PLC at Work way. In mathematics, the answer is never to select and sort the students into lower level classes. The answer is to keep students at level, give them access, and then give them the figurative "proper box of support" to stand on so they can meet those expectations.

I hope you are a fighter for access and a fighter for required intervention at all levels, all tiers as needed, that provides that support. Let us not go backwards to the 1990's. And let us also be realistic to the work that is ahead of us, and do the best we can - the class of 2015 is depending on it!


  1. One of the aspects that is so concerning is the fact that the Common Core is essentially a national curriculum (ok 48 out of 50 states is pretty close). It should be a concern with increased requirements for mathematics, science and English, that we will lose our "elective" classes. Our communities still need people that can fix cars, furnaces, etc., and it will be increasingly more difficult to do these things if those classes are taken away. We still need people who can start small businesses and create.

    While I think that the common core standards are great in one sense- more depth on fewer topics, it gives me knots in my stomach to know that our economy of the future will be less diverse because of this national education. The Washington Post has an editorial on this matter that you can see at my blog

  2. Jim, thanks for your comments. Hopefully it is not an either or proposition for students as the intent is to become college and career ready. At Stevenson we pursued the notion that students could and should do both as they determine the best career path for themselves, not the ones that our old "selecting and sorting" policies may have chosen for them. Whether the electives are in Fine Arts, Applied Arts, Business or other fields, they are all important aspects of the high school curriculum. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Common standards does not mean a common curriculum. The distinction is crucial. See