No College Student Left Behind

President Bush’s latest initiative to encourage excellence in math and science education may signal another change in how American schools are operated. The proposal to award grants of $750 to $1000 to college freshmen in math, science, and technology who have concluded a “rigorous” high school curriculum may give the federal Department of Education a greater power than held previously – the power to determine what is truly “rigorous”. The Texas scholars program on which the idea is based, defines “rigorous” as a course of study which includes 4 years of English, 3 ½ years of social studies, 2 years of a foreign language, two full years of algebra, a year of geometry, and a year each of biology, chemistry, and physics.

It is estimated that up to 500,000 students could receive the awards – but the criteria the students have to meet is not yet determined. College freshmen would receive $750-1000, sophomores $1300, and junior and seniors $4,000.

I have a few questions.

What about the students who are not able to attend schools that offer “rigorous” curriculum? What about those students living in areas where “school choice” is simply not offered, who must do the best they can with what is available? Will low and middle income students who attend private and parochial schools also be eligible? If so, what criteria will define “rigorous”? How will home schooled students be affected?

The legislation for this new program states that students must complete a course of study “established by a state or local educational agency and recognized by the secretary.” Does this apply to non public alternatives? If so, how will non public schools and home schooled students be evaluated?

There are still 20 states that do not participate in State Scholars programs, and don’t offer more than a basic diploma. In states that participate in State Scholars, not all schools meet the criteria necessary for participation. In New Jersey, only 35 of 300 high schools participate. In Connecticut, only 4 of 180 are part of the State Scholars program.

Perhaps the department of education will consider advanced placement classes, if offered, for these students. One thing is certain; if no child is to truly be left behind, all students should have access to the “rigorous” education necessary to qualify for these grants.