Rigor is better- or Not
We are all about making our schools more rigorous. We keep increasing the number of math courses students need to take, lowering the grade in which algebra starts, and adding the number of credits required for a high school diploma. We insist on a foreign language and want every student to be prepared with the necessary courses to go on to college.
I find these efforts counter-productive to what schooling is supposed to be about. The original decision to spend tax-payer money to provide a free education for all children came right along with universal suffrage (OK, not universal for women and certain racial groups). But the idea was that if everyone were going to vote they needed to be able to read, write and understand the issues of the election. We have moved a long way from that point.
Increasingly there is a strong shift to earlier emphasis on academic instruction. We are totally comfortable ignoring normal developmental milestones to push academic achievement into lower and lower grades.
Uniformly, algebra is introduced in the 8thgrade. San Francisco found very high repeat rates for 8thgraders taking algebra. But when they moved algebra to 9thgrade, those rates dropped dramatically.
New York City has some of the most premier selective high schools in the nation. Entrance is not based on middle school grades; it is not based on teacher referrals; and it is not based on the scores of the state tests. All children rise and fall based on one single test developed by the premier schools. As a consequence, while the City is over 50% African-American and Latino, only four children from these groups are among the entering class for fall 2018. The Mayor is upset about this and has suggested entrance to these schools should consider multiple factors. Others insist he is trying to lower the rigor of these wonderful schools.
How about we think of rigor in schools as including the ability to problem solve, get along with people of differing cultures or opinions, develop social/emotionally strong students who can stand up to the social and political pressures of the world into which they will venture. Students who are sufficiently comfortable in their world that they do not act out aggressively toward their school. College should NOT be an extension of secondary education. We should not be preparing everyone for an academic career. We know there are multiple kinds of intelligences, why don’t we act that way in developing our high school curricula. In days of yore, high schools awarded multiple diplomas: academic, general, business and vocational. Some things old should be good again.