Taking classes without learning much

Over the past 25 years,  students have been required to pass more and more math, science, English, history, and foreign language classes to graduate from high school. Today’s sophomores in 10 states will have to take more math than did students who graduated five years earlier; nine states will require them to take more science. So, voila, they’ll know more math and science! Well, according to a recent study of increased science requirements in the Chicago Public Schools, maybe not.

The study looked at a 1997 policy requiring all students to take three years of science to graduate. Before the policy, most students took only one science class. After, 90 percent of students took three. But, most students passed those classes with Cs and Ds. And according to a co-author of the report, previous research has found that only students who get As and Bs in their classes learn very much. So, the bottom line is that, while almost all Chicago students are sitting through science classes, the number of students learning more science has gone up only marginally. It’s not a surprise, but we often forget that only students who show up mentally and physically actually learn much. Sitting in a room where teaching is going on is not the same as learning.

— Richard Lee Colvin