In the ring: Does the 4×4 plan help academically or hurt electively?

Mercedes Ordonez and Tristan Boyd

 

Introduction by Amberly Tabor

 

 

November 17, 2008, the State Board of Education approved the 4×4 plan. This new plan requires students to earn four high school credits in the four core subjects: English, math, social studies and science. The number of credits needed to graduate is also increased to 26 for students following the Recommended High School Program or the Distinguished Achievement Program. The current plan requires high school students to earn 24 credits to graduate, including four credits in both English and social studies and three credits in both math and science. Some argue that the new plan will impede students from choosing courses they are passionate about, bring down the quality of elective courses and negatively affect students who have double-blocked classes. Others believe that the 4×4 plan will better the academic aspects of the educational system and give Texas schools the edge they need to compete with schools across the globe. The Class of 2011 will be the first class at CPHS to be affected by the new plan, but everyone, including upperclassmen, are joining the controversial discussion. The debate continues…In the ring!

On the Right:

The education system in Texas and even the United States is lacking. If this nation is supposed to be one of, if not the, most prosperous in the world, then why did UNICEF rank the US eighteenth out of 24 industrialized nations based on their overall educational system? It is obvious that the US needs some educational reform. However, there is a beacon of hope: the 4×4 plan recently enacted by Texas state legislation, which requires students graduating in 2011 and beyond to take four years of math and science along with other previous requirements.

With today’s global economy, our state and nation are failing to provide students with a full education that gives them a competitive edge for jobs against other nations across the world. According to an article from the Washington Post, the US is behind 16 other industrialized countries out of 30, based on the average scores of an applied math and science test taken by high school students around the world. This data could be one of the reasons that the state legislation decided to enact the 4×4 plan. The extra year of math and science could potentially allow students to compete for jobs with their peers around the globe. Many foreigners look down on the United States because of their education system. Even foreign exchange students at CPHS believe that, although there are exceptional elective programs here, the core classes are not challenging enough. The 4×4 plan is not going to solve all of the education problems in this district, but it is a clear step in the right direction.

As students advance through high school, some might feel that their responsibilities should lessen, because of all the hard work they have done in previous years. Is this true? Throughout life people generally gain more responsibilities as they grow older, they do not get lazier. Have you ever heard of a 40 year-old man saying he has “senioritis?” This should be the same in high school. A high school senior is almost, if not already, legally an adult. If you can buy cigarettes and go see rated R movies, then it makes sense for the high school system to expect students to handle two extra classes. Senior year should not be looked upon as a time to slack off, but rather a time to prepare for what is next. The added year of math and science is preparing students either for the real world, where they will use math/science in applicable everyday situations, or for college, which more and more universities are requiring students to have four full years of math/science.

High school should not only provide students with valuable life skills, such as teaching them responsibilities, but should also provide students with a strong educational foundation. Sure, the requirements already in place provide students with enough knowledge to get by, but is that really what we are looking for? Shouldn’t we strive to go above and beyond? Most states across the nation already require students to take four years of math and science and Texas has been lagging behind. Even most students at CPHS in the top 10 percent have already taken the initiative and have taken one more year of math and science. Obviously, the requirements set in place are not hard to exceed, so this extra year of math and science is not as tragic as some would make it out to be. It is actually giving students across the state a stronger educational background and a steady foundation for a more in-depth college course. Or, if they do not go to college, this plan is still giving them more knowledge to take with them for the rest of their lives.

Though the 4×4 plan is obviously providing a better education to students, many are upset because they have lost their long awaited off periods or they do not think they will be able to pursue more interesting electives their senior year in place of a math or science course. This is absolutely untrue. Those students who take the initiative to pursue their interests (maybe those who learn responsibility in high school), have an abundant amount of opportunities to do so. For starters, a student can take their first year of high school math in middle school. Also, the school provides many summer school opportunities with which a student could free up their schedule for more electives, or even an off period. Finally, a student has the opportunity to take free classes at ACC to earn dual credit while freeing up their schedule. Especially those students who are double blocked with activities such as band or sports programs, taking summer classes is an excellent way to give them more time to devote to their passions. Not only that, but there are also many club sport programs in the Cedar Park area that allow students to play their favorite sports without cluttering their schedule.

Even if a student does not take advantage of these opportunities, they could plan their schedule freshman year to include everything they want to do, while picking one of the many diverse selections of courses CPHS offers. There is an entire building here almost entirely dedicated to the vast selection of science courses, which can count as a science credit. CPHS makes it fairly easy for students to plan a challenging schedule that can still keep their interests. More than that, high school should not be only about pursuing student’s interests at this level. Since when is basketball or band more important than math? Though you can make a career out of each, it is still important to know the basics of all core subjects. A student could even make the time to do both if he/she is really motivated. This is the goal of the 4×4 plan. However, students should keep note of what they like and dislike and they should be open minded to every subject so they can fully experience it before they rule it out. A fourth year of math or science may seem like a terrible idea, however, a student might find that the extra course is not the burden that it seemed to be. The 4×4 plan may seem to be an unnecessary inconvenience for student, but it is actually helping these students attain more knowledge, without taking away any precious freedoms.

On the Left:

Classes of 2011 and 2012, as you have probably all realized by completing yet another semester of high school and then some, it is one of the most taxing experiences of one’s young life.  The balancing act of maintaining grades, relationships, a Facebook page and the high score in HALO is no easy feat, but one that we must all face as we approach senior year and the great beyond.

Now, in the past, we would have told you not worry, because as you become an upper-classmen your freedoms increase incrementally and allow more time for you to pursue what you really want in life.

Today, however, our message in not one of hope, because due to decisions that have received less criticism than deserved, the freedoms that were once more readily available to upper-classmen have been taken away and replaced with the requirement that you undergo even more academic rigors.

The 4×4 plan is perhaps the greatest attack on an education system that used to let go of students as they grew up.  This plan states that all students must take the equivalent of four years of high school math, science, history and English. While it may not seem to be a major change in the current system that CPHS maintains, it will limit not only your chances of attaining a highly coveted off-period, but also put restrictions on your ability to fully pursue what you want in school.

A major aspect of what makes high school so important is the fact that many of you are probably beginning to figure out what you want to do with your lives and are devoting nearly everything you have to it. However, in addition to pursuing your passions, you are all required to take care of other obligations the district has placed on you. We’re sure that you all remember the lectures your counselors have given you on the restrictions for graduation that require certain credits to be met and terms like “recommended,” “distinguished” and “credit requirements” have been repeated many times.

Now, of course, we understand that these credit requirements are necessary and helpful for students to not only learn basics of education, but to explore different topics to help them find their passions in life. Honestly, though, by the time most of you reach senior year, you are probably going to know what your passions are. Some of you will grow tired of math and want to spend most of your time acting. Others of you will develop a deep interest in medicine and want to forsake the other courses that held you back for so long.

This was the beauty of the old system. It allowed students to pursue their passions while still taking care of other essentials and offered more freedom as students grew and became more mature. By the time one was a senior, they could almost completely devote themselves to what they wanted and transition into college without too much turbulence.

As you grow older you should be given more and more options to study what you want as opposed to being piled on with requirements.  In elementary school everything was highly structured and almost no options were available.  In middle school, electives were introduced and students get a few limited choices.  Then, in high school, with the previous system, students were given more and more freedom as they grew up. 

Now, one might argue that the 4×4 plan is not a major problem and will have little effect on the upper-classmen of the future, but consider this for a moment: what impact will this have on those of you who have double blocked programs such as band, choir, athletics or HST? With four academics, two periods of your double blocked class and all of the other required courses you will have to take (foreign languages and communication applications, ACE, Health, etc.), how will you find time to handle everything at once?  Seniors already have to cope with senior project, college applications, difficult senior classes and even jobs outside of school.  The stress of senior year will only get worse when students have to study for classes they don’t even want to take. Does this seem like a worthwhile strategy for fighting senioritis?

It is obvious that Texas is suffering academically compared to others states, but is the best solution to this problem to just increase the quantity of classes that high school students must take? The problem lies not with the amount of science or math courses that students take, but the quality of those courses and the amount of effort the students put in. Do educators expect standards to rise simply by increasing the quantity of the courses or for students to try harder in their senior year and junior year when they are required to take another class they never wanted to?

Furthermore, it would seem that there are two sides to this coin. Texas may suffer academically, but in many other regards it is stronger than so many other states. Texas is, without a doubt, the greatest high school band state in the nation and the athletic programs are nothing to be forgotten either. Perhaps priorities are shifted in Texas to allow other areas of study to flourish and not shove solely reading, writing and arithmetic down student’s throats.

With this new change though, you will all be bogged down by the academics you are beginning to realize you have no interest in. When senior year comes and you realize that your life’s ambition is to be a professional decorator, you will still have to sit through ninety minute lectures every other day on the fascinating values of trigonometric ratios on the radian circle.  Are you excited yet?

Another major problem this system introduces is the degeneration of value in CPHS’s elective programs.  CPHS offers a stunningly impressive number of electives ranging from computer courses to forensics classes to a number of excellent fine arts programs.  Interested in sports? We have volleyball, basketball, soccer, football, baseball, softball and even lacrosse. What about science? Just walk into the S building and you will see more science electives than you could have dreamed of. The course catalog is chock full of options for you to explore in your four short years in high school. What good are these options if most of your precious time is being spent in classes you know you don’t want to pursue beyond high school?

The wide course of electives that is offered in the LISD fulfills a major obligation of high school; helping students figure out their passions and vocations in life.  While the academics are essential to most any trade, most people are not going to grow up and become scientists or mathematicians.  The academics serve more as a foundation for the topics students will study in college and eventually develop as careers. The elective system allows students to spend large amounts of their time studying courses that may be more pertinent and specific to the topics that truly interest them and may become what they study full-time in the future. The 4×4 plan will take time away that you would have had to engage in these electives and explore the areas of study that may very well be of the utmost importance to you.

Another negative aspect of this change is that with students weighed down by a range of academics, the elective programs may very well begin to suffer. Cedar Park is known for having strong sports teams, excellent band and choir programs and a massive list of other successful programs that would undoubtedly suffer if students no longer had the time to give to their success.

Thanks to the four year plan, your freedoms are so much more limited than they would have been. Those of you who wanted to spend all of your time senior year delving into the courses that not only excite you, but would prepare you for your future are in for a rough ride. High school should be a time for you to explore your options and see what it is that interest you in life while teaching basics that are essential for any trade or purpose. Unfortunately, this is changing and will start to have drastic effects on all of you unless you take advantage of one of the freedoms you do have left and use your voice.