Dems kill math-science learning bill
By Jennifer Brown Denver Post Staff Writer
A bill that would have required all Colorado high school students to take four years of math and three years of science was defeated Thursday by lawmakers who said it would cut into teaching the arts and increase the dropout rate.
The legislation, which won bipartisan support in the Senate, was killed on an 8-4 partisan vote by the Democrat-controlled House Education Committee after a two-hour hearing.
"My concern is we're not talking about a well- balanced education if we move forward with this bill," said Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. "When push comes to shove, there's only so much time in the curriculum."
Merrifield, a former music teacher, recalled students reluctantly dropping his class to meet graduation requirements.
But Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Jefferson County, said youths in Colorado - one of only six states without statewide graduation requirements - will fall behind without a more rigorous high school curriculum.
Just 9 percent of students who take two years or less of math in high school are ready for college work compared with 41 percent of students who take four years of math, Witwer said.
University of Colorado president Hank Brown and Colorado State University president Larry Penley wrote letters supporting the bill.
Brown, who for 16 years nominated Colorado high school seniors to military academies, said some of the top students did not meet academy requirements.
"The reality is that a number of our high schools in Colorado do not require enough instruction in English, math and science to achieve a basic mastery of those subjects," he wrote. "We are shortchanging our youth."
Penley said the legislation - Senate Bill 131 - would ensure that rural and minority students have the same opportunities to take advanced math and science courses as students in affluent urban districts.
Committee chairman Merrifield questioned how the university presidents would feel if lawmakers began "meddling in" medical school requirements.
Others wondered whether math and science classes are more important than art or foreign language.
"Our world is too complicated to narrow it down to two topics," said Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton.
Jefferson County teacher Deborah Piwonka said the future economy will revolve around math and science technology. "Don't sell our kids short," she said. "Set the bar high."
But Rona Wilensky, principal of New Vista High School in Boulder, said stringent math and science requirements do not mean better teaching or more engaged students.
"It also assumes that more seat time equals more learning," Wilensky said.
Democrats on the committee favored a more flexible bill from Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, that would help set up high school graduation guidelines.
House Bill 1118 would require the State Board of Education to create minimum graduation requirements, then allow local school boards to develop their own versions.