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More math, science may be out

BOISE – Changes in high school graduation requirements that were revived last week could die this week if a new Senate resolution passes.

Monday’s resolution from the Senate Education Committee would override the additional high school graduation requirements approved 11-7 by the House Education Committee last week.

The changes aim to increase math and science requirements from two years each to four years of math and three of science and add a senior project and other requirements. The State Board of Education is pushing the curriculum redesign, but some worry the additional requirements could reduce the number of elective courses available and hurt rural schools already struggling to attract and retain good teachers.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he supports the redesign rule and will encourage his fellow senators to vote against the new resolution when it comes up in the full Senate, likely later this week.

“I’m in favor of initiating redesign,” Goedde said. But his committee supported the resolution by a slight majority, outvoting him.

The committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said he supports the resolution because the redesign of graduation requirements being pushed is based on faulty assumptions about the condition of Idaho’s public school system.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 44.8 percent of Idaho’s high school graduates went on to some form of higher education in 2000, well below the national average of 56.7 percent. Board of Education representatives have cited similar data when pushing the redesign.

Jorgenson said the statistics the board gives regarding the number of high school graduates in Idaho who continue on to higher education only include students at Idaho’s seven state colleges and universities and not any at private or out-of-state schools.

“For them to be clamoring to do a restructuring based on this inadequacy of high education and asking for more money when they’re giving false information is outrageous,” Jorgenson said.

Board spokeswoman Luci Willits said the board has cited valid statistics.

Neither the state Department of Education nor the Board of Education has the means of tracking which student goes where, but other organizations do and the board gets its statistics from them, Willits said. The statistics presented to the Legislature are from the ACT and SAT standardized testing organizations, Willits said.

“The state board has been pretty open and honest about where their statistics have come from,” Willits said. “They’ve been cited by major policy and research groups around the country.”

The redesign proposal would cost an estimated $1.4 million – money the state Board of Education has said needs to be allocated for redesign to move forward.

Legislative budget writers are expected to take up the issue soon.

Goedde said he’d like to see funding even if the resolution passes because the additional training and development for math teachers offered in the redesign proposal is needed.

“Those things should be done whether the redesign goes forward or not, just because these are areas that have proven to be shortcomings,” Goedde said.

The redesign proposal stalled in the House Education Committee on a tie vote earlier in the session. The Senate Education Committee had rejected the proposal 5-4, but rules need approval from only one committee before taking effect, meaning the approval from the House committee last week was all it needed.

The resolution had been written for at least a few weeks, Goedde said, but it got new political life after the House Education Committee approved the redesign.