ATLANTA - Next year's high school freshmen will take more math and science than their predecessors under changes expected to be approved next week by the state Board of Education.
State officials are hoping the changes will increase the number of diplomas handed out and the number of students entering college. But some educators are concerned it will hurt the state's already lagging graduation rate.
The changes, which are set for final approval Sept. 13 at a state Board of Education meeting, do away with the state's four-tiered diploma system that required different classes for students depending on their post-graduation plans.
Now even students who do not want to go to college will take four years of math and science, a move state educators hope will encourage more students to consider a higher education in the long run.
Georgia ranks next to last among Southern states for the percentage of ninth graders who graduate in four years. That means Georgia's 61 percent is well below the national average of 75 percent, according to the new data from the Southern Regional Education Board.
But some educators worry that requiring students who aren't college bound to take the same classes as those who are will hurt the numbers even more.
'The new math requirements will be even more difficult for some students,' wrote Julie Hartline, a guidance counselor at Campbell High School in Cobb County, as part of a monthslong process in which the state collected public comments on the proposed changes. 'Requiring all students to complete college preparatory mathematics will penalize many students unfairly, increasing Georgia's dropout rate even more.'
State officials say the opposite. Raising expectations for students will ultimately make them work harder and perform better, said state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox.
She and other state Department of Education officials have cited research done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006 that shows the majority of high school dropouts say they were bored and not motivated to do well in school. In the study, 66 percent of dropouts said they would have worked harder if more was demanded of them.
'Georgia made a very critical mistake when we decided the way to get programming for technical education was to separate kids out and give them different requirements,' Cox said. 'I don't care if you leave high school and go into the world of work, you still need a rigorous math curriculum.'