A while ago, I asked people to comment on a story by Maria Newman that appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday, May 9 with the headline "High Schools See Gains With Tough New Courses." A number of people replied that they had not seen the story but would like to know more. The story follows - I would still appreciate comments and reflection in light of the great challenge of the Standards to foster a curriculum that deepens understanding of math and also expand access to higher mathematics to more students.
NEW YORK, May 8 - The push by Schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines to have all of New York City's high school students take college preparatory math and science courses has made impressive gains in tis first year, with thousands of additional students passing these tougher courses.
But a report evaluating the new initiative also shows that a large percentage of students cannot handle the more demanding work, with 4 in 10 ninth graders failing the Regents math course.
Mr. Cortines said the report, released today, showed that the tougher requirements would help more students, espcially bald and Hispanic students, achieve more. In the most dramatic result, the number of Hispanic and black students passing the science Regents courses has more than doubled from the previous year.
"The worst thing we can do for our students, the most insidious way of cheating them, the surest formula for failure is to ask little and expect little of our students," Mr. Cortines said in a statement. "And little is all that their education will mean to them."
The new requirements tood effect for all ninth graders last fall. Some teachers, parents and students complained of a lack of textbooks, academic preparation and teachers certified to teach the tougher classes. Mr. Cortines argued that the change would be difficult but necessary if the school system were going to improve student achievement.
Now the challenge for Mr. Cortines and other educators is to find a way to help the growing number of students failing the tougher courses. The Chancellor said in the report that he would offer summer school to those who fail, but it is unclear where, in a year of severe budget cuts, he will find the money for it.
The report showed that 48,080 out of a total of 54,221 ninth graders took the Regents-level science courses, more than double the number from the previous year, when 20,485 took the tougher courses. Of those who tood the science courses in the fall, 25 percent received failing grades, compared with 13 percent the year before.
In math, 50,512 of 54,221 ninth graders tood the Regents-level courses in the fall, compared with 36582 the year before. The failure rate for the fall of 1994 was 42 percent, compared with 37 percent the year before.
Despite the higher failure rates, teachers say they are happy to help students strive for more, said Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers.
"We didn't think you'd see dramatic results overnight," Mr. Davis said. "Nevertheless, we think it's a worthwhile goal. So we support the Chancellor's taking the steps to implement it."
Mr. Davis daid that putting the new requirements inplace so quickly meant that some students had to share textbooks or work fromphoto-copies of books. And at many schools, science laboratories are woefully inadequate, he said.
Mr. Cortines said that one sign of the enthusiasm among teachers is that thousands of them - many more than he anticipated - signed up for optional training sessions last summer to prepare them for the new courses.
The changes Mr. Cortines made a year ago are significant for the largest school system in the country. For the first time, nearly all high school students are required to take three years of college-preparatory science and mathematical courses to graduate.
Before the initiative, many students were taking less difficult courses, like consumer math, in which students learn to balance a checkbook and make change. While black and Hispanic children account for more than 70 percent of all New York City students, less than half of them had been enrolled in Regents-level classes.
The report found that black and Hispanic ninth graders still were proportionately less likely than Asian and white students to pass the Regents courses. Still, the report fiund a higher number of those students passing the tests.
Anne Wheelock firstname.lastname@example.org Boston, Massachusetts, USA