Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Harder Courses Produce Gains

A pilot project in Hartford and Frederick Counties has led to some gains among studentsenrolling in more difficult courses reports the Baltimore Sun.
From 2003 to this year, the number of African-American high school students completing algebra I by their freshmen year rose 158 percent, the number of children from lower-income households finishing a chemistry course increased 115 percent, and the number of students overall taking a fourth science course went up 54 percent.

"We have seen significant gain in all student subgroups and the percentage of students taking rigorous coursework," Haas said.

To become Maryland Scholars, students must complete the prescribed additional courses - algebra II, chemistry, physics and foreign languages - and maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average.

Maryland Scholars, who are eligible for the federal Pell grant in college, receive additional aid for their tuition. In their freshmen year, scholars get an extra $750, and if they maintain a 3.0 GPA, they earn an additional $1,300 in their sophomore year. Students who major in math, science or specific foreign languages could receive an additional $4,000 through the federal Academic Competitiveness Grant in their junior and senior years.

The number of Harford County graduates who met the program's criteria increased from 931 in 2003 to 1,481 this year. More than half of Harford's 2007 graduating class were Maryland Scholars.

Since 2003, there has been a 33 percent increase in the number of students receiving free and reduced-price meals who qualified as Maryland Scholars.

The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, a statewide nonprofit coalition of employers and businesses, partners with the governor's office and county school systems to run the Maryland Scholars program.
Color me shocked--if you challenge kids, they will rise to the challenge. Self-esteem is not built through touchy-feely help, but through success at something that is hard to do.

It is not enough, of course to simply, encourage kids to take the classes, but to succeed in them. Having a GPA requirement helps. Now that half of one county's graduating class qualifies for a program, it is time to up the ante a little. Let's make the coursework a little more challenging, including adding a significant writing requirement, i.e. a "senior thesis" type effort and a higher GPA requirement, say 2.75 on a 4.0 scale.

I have spoken before to classrooms on behalf of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education and intend to do so again this year. If you live or work in Maryland, I strongly encourage you to check out this program.

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