In at least a temporary setback to the state’s technology industry, Colorado lawmakers on Thursday killed a proposed bill that would have required all high school students to take four years of math and three years of science before graduating. Many schools now require only two years of each subject.
Although few if any tech executives spoke in favor of the bill, SB-131, the presidents of the University of Colorado and Colorado State University supported the bill, saying that state high schools are graduating students that do not meet their universities’ entrance requirements, much less those of top-tier schools such as Stanford and Harvard.
The bill’s sponsors — Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction and Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Genessee — noted correctly that the United States is losing its edge in engineering and science to other countries, particularly China and Japan. They contend that raising high school math and science requirements would help reverse that trend.
Opponents, however, argued against what they saw as a piecemeal approach to revising school standards one or two subjects at a time, and worried that other programs such as art or foreign languages might be shortchanged.
Clearly, both sides of this argument have merit. If we expect to prepare our future generations to succeed in a global economy, we simply must raise the bar in education.
But Colorado has traditionally given local school districts a great deal of control over curriculum and other priorities. That’s not something to be dismissed lightly.
There’s also the problem of legislators creating yet another unfunded mandate for state public schools, which already are struggling to recover from years of inadequate funding, while also trying to comply with numerous existing state and federal program and testing requirements.
Perhaps the statehouse isn’t the best place from which to be increasing high school math and science requirements. But that doesn’t mean the change doesn’t need to be made.
Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, is sponsoring an alternate bill, HB-1118. It would require the state board of education to adopt minimum high school graduation guidelines, which local districts would then be expected to use to establish graduation requirements tailored to their own communities’ specific needs.
Let’s hope the legislature sees fit to support this more flexible approach.