AISD should use a realistic graduation plan for high school students

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Last week the Austin American-Statesman reported that Austin Independent School District leaders, including Edmund Oropez, the district’s associate superintendent of high schools, want to start Austin’s high school freshmen out on the toughest graduation plan available under the recently passed House Bill 5. This plan gives students greater flexibility by reducing the number of required credits and allowing students to pursue an endorsement, or special focus, in an area such as “engineering” or “business and industry.” 

The new law requires all Texas high school students to start with a 26-credit plan, with the option to drop down to 22 after sophomore year. If the school board approves the measure later this year, Austin would take that a step further by starting every freshman on the “distinguished” plan, which includes certain higher-level courses. The distinguished plan is also required for automatic admission to state universities under the Top 10 Percent Plan. 

We applaud district leaders for wanting to challenge students and encourage them to go to college. Joshua Tang, a campus coordinator for Longhorn Teach for America, is correct that it is “important that all students [be] held to the highest expectations.” 

However, we also realize that the term “highest expectations” must be considered in relative terms, which may mean college for some and vocational training for others. Not every student is bound for college, and pushing those who aren’t will only result in wasted efforts and frustration, for both students and teachers alike, when they opt out of the plan. 

We agree with Robert Edwards, president of the UT chapter of Students for Education Reform, who supports the use of career-specific endorsements to better prepare students for the working world.

“I believe students will benefit in the long run from a more rigorous curriculum, but I say that with the underlying notion that they have to be in a customizable curriculum such as a vocational program or career path of their choosing,” Edwards said.

Instead of requiring all students to start high school on the college readiness plan, AISD should focus on the default plan under HB 5. It pushes students to explore and develop skills they can put to good use in their working careers without reverting to the rigid college-only focus of the 4-by-4 plan that HB 5 did away with. The school district would still do well to encourage students to challenge themselves and consider going to college, but making that decision for them is a step too far.