Like many teachers in the final days of spring break, I began spring cleaning by dusting off my inbox. There I saw an unpleasant surprise from my principal: “Yes, math is still required in the senior year.”
Really? As Kevin Richert explains, Senate Bill 1266 – which Gov. Otter snooze-buttoned into law – does away with language requiring students to take math their senior year. But lawmakers didn’t do their homework – the law as written refers to a section of the code dealing with gifted students’ education. The underlying rule stands: students must take math the year of their intended graduation.
This sets Idaho students up for failure. To right this wrong, schools need the freedom to arrange their own course schedules. If the Legislature can’t do its job properly, the State Department of Education should do away with the senior math requirement.
To be sure, students should be taking math every year in high school if they truly want to compete in today’s STEM-dominated job market. But under Idaho law, students only need the equivalent of six semesters worth of math under their belts to graduate.
You do the math: if two of those semesters are locked into senior year, then somewhere along the way students can go through at least one year of high school without taking math – an abrupt end to the momentum of prior years’ math classes.
The result? A requirement meant to help students graduate has the opposite effect.
At Nampa High School, where I teach Economics, most of the 11th graders I teach do not take math their junior year. In my class, students dust off their math knowledge when they construct average cost curves, calculate their retirement savings or evaluate different reserve requirement ratios. But all the inter-disciplinary curriculum in the world does not change the fact that at I am fundamentally a social studies teacher, not a math teacher. And in most Idaho schools (where economics is a senior-level course), not even this stopgap exists to help students maintain their math skills.
When students enter their state-sanctioned senior math class, they enter unprepared and forgetful of the skills they had developed in earlier classes. This is a big obstacle at Nampa High, a Title-I school where six of seven kids lacks grade-level math proficiency. Could you pass math having not taken it for a year?
This isn’t just a Nampa problem – as Idaho lags behind the national average in high school graduation, kids need every opportunity they can get to get ahead. Instead, lawmakers have failed to remove an arbitrary barrier between students and graduation.
Whether SB 1266’s faults are intended or just typographical in nature is still to be determined. But if it’s the former, then Gov. Otter will be surprised to know that the law he wrung his hands over was moot all along. Regardless, SDE should fix the error when it fleshes out the language in the rulemaking process.
In a letter to administrators, SDE said that the rule will be submitted for public content later this year. When the time comes, educators, administrators and parents need to send a clear message to regulators to put the power back in the hands of principals instead of politicians.
Written by Adam Schasel, an educator at Nampa High School in Nampa.