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November 19, 2007

Enrichment courses on the chopping block?

I was thrilled recently when I heard about the journalism club at New Town High School in Owings Mills. But the thrill was fleeting, as I found out in the same conversation with a teacher there that the club is all that's left for students after the school's journalism class was eliminated this year to make room in students' schedules for tutoring classes to help them pass High School Assessments. As most of you know, HSAs are given in four subjects --- algebra, U.S. government, English and biology --- and are a requirement for graduation starting with the Class of 2009.

When my stepdaughter was in high school, she'd grumble about an unappealing course and ask, "Why do I need to take this?" I'd tell her, "School is as much about learning how to read and write as it is about learning where your interests lie." I told her it was important to try a range of subjects so she could figure out what to pursue in college and in life. The talks didn't necessarily help her like those unappealing courses any more --- for instance, she learned she really didn't like algebra as much as she thought she didn't --- but the point was, she stuck it out, learned a thing or two and lived to tell about it.

I'll probably be sorry that I asked, but what other examples do you know about of enrichment classes that have suffered the same fate as the journalism class at New Town High? Do you see it as a necessary move to ensure students are passing these high-stakes exams, or do you worry that students are losing out on opportunities to broaden their academic horizons?

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, NCLB, Teaching, Testing, Trends


I worry. A lot.

HSAs SHOULD be important. That there's a standard -- something we can say "Every MD student should know this when they graduate" -- is important. Of this, I have no doubt.

But what worries me is that this standard should already be part of the curriculum. That is, in the course of a normal math course, you learn what you need to graduate, without the need for additional reinforcement in the school day.

Passing the high-stakes exam is important, certainly. But we have a serious issue if we're cutting into other areas to ensure that kids are passing; it means that either the test is a flawed creation, or the present curriculum is far too flawed to save.

It used to be that "enrichment" courses saved the kid who was bored, hated school, or didn't necessarily have the smarts to keep up in the academic classes. They could at least count on one class that they enjoyed, and that made it easier to get through school.
Now, with the emphasis on testing, kids don't even have that one class that helped them get through everything else. And we wonder why kids fail/drop out/underachieve?
School should never just be about testing, or even college, for that matter. It should also be about exploring vocational/career choices and learning for fun. Except the fun has now been taken out of the equation.

Our students are dying for some kind of enrichment or diversity in course offerings. Imagine a 16 year old student who has the following schedule: English II (an HSA class) - 90 minutes, Government (an HSA class) - 90 minutes, Algebra for Master (Because he didn't pass the Algebra I HSA last year) - 90 minutes, Chemistry - 90 minutes. This would be for the entire year (except for Chemistry which is a 1 semester course that might be replaced with Phys Ed or Health). I was a good student, but this schedule would have drained any love for learning from me. For a child who's less motivated and/or less skilled, it must be akin to "waterboarding". How many students are we losing because they don't have Journalism, Photography, Psychology, Drama, Home Economics, Woodshop, Advance Placement courses, etc?! They really need something to look forward to during the day, something that makes the less interesting courses bearable. We're not just leaving children behind, we're shoving them off the train and picking up steam.

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