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Local: Education

D.C. school leaders concerned about proposed graduation requirements

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Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye

D.C. students would have to complete more art, music and physical education before they can graduate under a proposal by the DC State Board of Education. But school leaders warn that the new requirements would hurt both students who excel and those who lag behind.

In a letter to the DC State Board of Education, DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and the heads of seven major public charter schools also criticized the proposal to increase the total number of required credits from 24 to 26 -- among the highest in the nation -- to mandate that students log 225 minutes of physical activity a week and to require a senior thesis.

The increase in requirements would make it difficult for students at Thurgood Marshall Academy to take Advanced Placement classes, which take up two course periods, said school Executive Director Alexandra Pardo, who signed the letter. "I would hate to have to say to a kid, 'You can't take AP [Calculus] because you have to take art or you have to take P.E.' "

The requirements
Subject Current Proposed
English 4 units 4 units
Math 4 units (Must include algebra I, geometry and algebra II) 4 units (Must include algebra II)
Science 4 units (Must include 3 lab sciences) 4 units (Must include biology and 2 other lab sciences)
Social studies 4 units (Must include world history, U.S. history, U.S. government and D.C. history) 4 units (Must include world history, U.S. history, D.C. history)
World language 2 units 2 units*
Visual/performing arts 0.5 units 0.5 units*
Music 0.5 units 0.5 units*
Music and visual/performing arts elective 0 units 1 unit*
Electives 3.5 units 3.5 units
Physical/health education 1.5 units 2.5 units*
Total 24 units 26 units
*These requirements may be met with a demonstration of proficiency. Performing arts, music and 0.5 credits of P.E. could be met through extracurricular dance, orchestra or team sports participation.

On the other end of the spectrum, students who are struggling with math or reading might not have time to get extra help.

The proposal also presents a problem for schools that lack the facilities for additional art or gym classes, the letter says.

"Not every charter high school has a gymnasium," Pardo said. Students would likely end up taking art in a room intended for math or taking P.E. behind the school building.

In a city where 59 percent of students graduate high school on time, more requirements would necessitate smaller classes and increases in computers, libraries and counselors, said Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders at a hearing Wednesday night.

Increasing the number of credits from 24 to 26 also would force all high schools to have at least seven periods a day or adopt a block schedule, the school leaders wrote. "Even a seven-period schedule resulting in 28 [credit] hours would not be in the best interest of students as this leaves little room for remediation courses or course recovery for students who fail a course."

The State Board is accepting comments on the proposed changes through Friday, said Executive Director Jesse Rauch, and the proposal will likely change before being finalized in March.

"I don't think it will pass the board the way it is now," said board member Patrick Mara, who said he objects to several parts of the proposal.

The question also remains whether charter schools will have to abide by the new requirements.

The DC Public Charter School Board, not the State Board, oversees the charter schools, Charter School Board Chairman Brian Jones wrote in a letter Thursday.

"Were the new state graduation requirements to be adopted in their current form, PCSB is concerned that many charter schools would seek charter amendments to establish different graduation criteria."

Rauch would not comment on that legal question.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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