Photo by clevercupcakes on Flickr.

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.

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.comments@dc.gov. OSSE will propose rules based on the State Board’s recommendations in October 2012; a final rule will be adopted in November or December.

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Tagged: dc, education

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.