High School Graduation Requirements In This Country – Shocking Differences, Especially With Math

For several months now, I have been writing articles mentioning a rapidly rising trend to requiring four years of math at and above Algebra for graduation from high school. Here in Colorado, in the school districts near me, this has already been adopted or is being seriously discussed. I decided today, to do some research into the requirements for different states. I was very surprised by what I found.

First, I need to point out that public education is considered to be a grass-roots process. Small areas elect school boards and the school boards are theoretically totally in charge of their own schools. I say “theoretically” because, while this is supposed to be how public education functions, we all know just from No Child Left Behind that the Federal Government has much to say about public education. While the government cannot set policy for the individual schools, it can and does use the loss of federal tax dollars as a method of control on some issues. But, for now, graduation requirements is not yet an area the federal government controls.

The individual states each have a Department of Education, yet the states do not set graduation requirements for its schools. What the states do have is a statement of “minimum requirements.” Actual graduation requirements are established by individual school boards and apply only to the schools within that school district. Here in Colorado Springs and near surrounding areas, we have seven different school districts all within a few miles of each other. Each has its own school board and each has its own graduation requirements. I don’t believe that any two districts have exactly the same requirements.

My first shock came when I looked up Colorado’s graduation requirements: 4 years in English Language Arts, 3 years in math, 2 years in social studies, 2 years in science, one semester in physical education, and one semester in fine arts. That’s all. I seriously overestimated what our “minimum” requirements would be. This is pretty pathetic considering we supposedly have a great educational system here. Fortunately, these numbers mean nothing since each student must meet the requirements of the school district–not the state.

After seeing what I consider to be rather weak requirements here, I decided to look at other states. As is true for every state, the listed requirements are state minimums, but the variation was unbelievable-especially with respect to mathematics. Some states suggest only 2 years of math with no specification of what courses those two years must be. Other state indicated 2 years, but must include Algebra 1. Some indicated 3 years and must include Algebra 1. Others indicated 3 years and must include Algebra 1 and Geometry. Many states included higher requirements for future graduating classes, and some states noted the intention to increase requirements–especially for math and science; but what exists at this moment in time as state minimums is truly minimal!

A look at various school districts within Colorado brought much-needed assurance that there is hope for higher educational standards. Every district I checked (this does not mean every district in the state–I didn’t check every one) had higher requirements for math, science, social studies, and P.E., and included requirements for health, humanities, computer education, economics, and practical arts. Some included foreign language requirements.

There has been an argument raging for years now about whether American education is declining. With such minimal expectations as set by each state, it is not surprising that results are disappointing. In all aspects of life, we tend to get what we expect to get. We seriously need to raise our educational expectations in this country!

Just an additional thought based on the fact that Ft. Carson, just outside Colorado Springs, provides a constant source of soldiers to our war efforts. One of the ramifications of this is that Fountain/Ft. Carson School District has very high turnover rates-sometimes over 100%. We need to consider that many students, all over this country, move from state to state in very short periods of time. With such wide variation in graduation requirements, I have to think some students get caught in difficult situations with respect to graduation. Maybe we need to consider some state cooperation to equalize graduation requirements.