Qualified Admissions standards are being undermined. Watered-down and vocational courses are being added to the lists of high school courses that can be taken to enter Kansas regents universities.
In the 1980s under Kansas Education Commissioner Droegemueller, only two science courses were required to graduate with a Kansas high school diploma. They included "food science" (home economics) and "tech prep" (shop). Because barely 40 percent of high school graduates attended college, Droegemueller defended these vocational courses as science because they served the majority of students.
When Andy Tompkins became Commissioner, that soon changed—home ec and shop no longer fulfilled the science requirements. But Kansas still had broad and shallow courses such as "general science" and "physical science." And they were taught by teachers with little science background.
The Kansas Board of Regents implemented the Qualified Admissions (QA) curriculum effective for college freshmen entering the fall of 2001 and required three natural science courses from among biology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, and technology—and one must be chemistry or physics. Watered-down and vocational courses were excluded; this was a curriculum for the college-bound student who need a solid science base to take college-level science.
By July of 2003, the Kansas State Board of Education eliminated teaching endorsements for general and physical science. Kansas science teachers are now prepared in depth in biology, chemistry, physics or earth sciences.
Among the many good-intentioned but mostly disastrous education reforms that have crippled education since 2000, the QA criteria stand out as the single genuine step forward that has maintained rigor in the science classroom. The quality of a class is determined by the training and skills of the teacher. For one short decade, Kansas headed toward providing a solid curriculum with solid teachers licensed in the topics they taught.
But starting last year and continuing into next year, the high school courses that qualify for the QA natural science curriculum are being watered down. And there is absolutely nothing in the recently revised QA curriculum revision to justify this.
Last year, "physical sciences" was added back to approved sciences. This next year will see the addition of "animal science" and "integrated science" (another term for general science). These are vocational-prep, not college-prep courses. By focusing on applied concepts, a course such as "animal science" lacks many of the core concepts of biology, from DNA and molecular biology to ecology. It does not prepare students for college biology. And it will usually be taught by a teacher not licensed in biology, another violation of the original QA requirements.
How are these watered-down and vocational courses getting washed into the QA curriculum if they were not specifically part of the KBOR-approved QA curriculum? —Course codes.
The KSDE assigned all high school courses "course code" numbers based on a federal checklist. General "integrated science" is 03201, plant science is 18051 and animal science is 18101. While the course descriptions clearly indicate these are simplistic or vocational courses not for college-bound students, KBOR staff appear to be using the coding to justify adding them anyway.
By translating the courses into federal numbers and then translating the numbers back, we are returning to the 1980s. Again, federal standardization replaces intelligent decision making. It is similar to Mark Twain’s attempt to translate a story into French, and then use a dictionary to translate it back into English again—it was a hilarious disaster. But there is nothing funny about using federal course codes to defy commonsense.
The greatest irony of all is that the Education Commissioner who oversaw the elimination of vocational courses as science credits is now the Board of Regents President who heads the agency that is returning these courses back into the college prep curriculum.
If we add animal science today, will we add "home ec" as science tomorrow?