Raleigh News and Observer letter to the editor: Adjust requirements to boost physics, science

A letter to the editor from a Chapel Hill science teacher in today’s Raleigh News and Observer (which published the Haase and Cottle op-ed and then its own editorial on the subject of preparation for science and engineering careers) points out the complexity of shifting high school graduation requirements:

I encourage my students to take physics, but many opt to take instead AP courses which raise their GPA, or they consider physics too hard.

The current and former graduation requirements mentioned in the editorial and article need to be clarified. They are not an elective science, biology and environmental science. Until 2009 they have been Earth/environmental science, biology and a physical science. Earth/environmental science is an important course especially given all the issues related to it: drilling for natural gas, weather, climate change, mining, etc. The physical science requirement can be met by Physical Science (introduction to chemistry and physics), Chemistry (the lab science most often taken to meet the UNC system entrance requirement) or Physics.

Unfortunately many students find science difficult and take only the minimum number of courses. The new graduation requirement requires four years of math, which means more students will be prepared for more advanced science courses, but it also requires four rather than three years of social studies, so there will be less room in students’ schedules for science. Perhaps students should also be required to take four years of science, engineering, technology or computing. This would include the current three sciences (life, physical and environmental sciences), and the fourth could be a more advanced science course like physics or many of the useful courses offered in the CTE (career and technology education department).

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