Diplomas for Everyone! Sen. Patrick Wants New School Curriculum Even If the Classes Don't Exist...Yet

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Sen. Dan Patrick continues to emphatically insist his new plan for accountability and high school diplomas will produce rigor; it will just be a different kind of rigor.

Patrick, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, has been slammed in the national media for stepping away from the 4x4 curriculum, which is basically a 16-credit core with four years of math, science, English and social studies. Patrick wants to step away from that pattern so students can pursue diplomas with a greater concentration in courses such as humanities or career/technology.

Patrick blames information that he's "dumbing down the curriculum" on a handful of blatant lobbyists and the national media that is spreading misinformation or false information about his plans for high school diplomas. Those editorials look like this one posted in the Washington Post on April 7.

"There have been editorials written in The New York Times and Washington Post," Patrick told his committee. "Since when did Texas care about what the Washington Post editorial board and New York Times editorial board had to say about Texas?"

Spring Branch Independent School District Superintendent Duncan Klussmann vocally supported Patrick's substitute for House Bill 5, noting his own humanities-oriented child was failing physics. Half of college majors don't require more than three hours of math. Most students are not going to need to know physics in their long-term careers, he explained.

Texas has slowly ratcheted up the standards for high school diplomas over the last decade, moving kids off a minimum default plan and replacing it with more courses in the four core subject areas. Right now, 80 percent of Texas students will graduate with more credits, especially in math and science, than their predecessors.

Patrick wants a foundation diploma, plus diplomas with endorsements in business and industry, science and math, and distinguished achievement. Students who want to pursue jobs in hydraulic welding or auto repair or English literature will have the opportunity to pursue those goals.

But here's where reality trumps Patrick's rhetoric, at least for the immediate future: A good number of these terrific mind-blowing career-technology courses and rigorous engaging humanities choices still don't exist. And once they're created, nothing guarantees those courses will have the equivalent rigor of a fourth year of math or science.

The note at the bottom of Patrick's own chart of his diploma options says, "Additional courses pending SBOE action" under each diploma plan, a process that likely will take months, if not years, to complete. Textbooks alone are on a six-year cycle, much less course curriculum and teacher certification.

Other than directing the State Board of Education to create another six career-technology courses to substitute for upper-level math and science, no work or thought has gone into how these diplomas actually will work. Or if individual schools are staffed with highly qualified teachers, as defined in No Child Left Behind.

And thus lawmakers enter the final weeks of the legislative session. Patrick expects a vote on his HB 5 substitute either today or Thursday.

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