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Chicago Increases Math, Science Requirements

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Students in Chicago will have to take more mathematics and science courses to graduate from high school under newly approved requirements.

Currently, students in the city's 75 public high schools must successfully complete one year of science and two years of mathematics--the minimum required for graduation by the state of Illinois.

Under the policy approved by the Chicago school board last month, at least three years each of science and mathematics will be required. Two of the science courses must have a laboratory component, and the math sequence must begin with algebra.

Students who take only the state's minimum courses do not meet the entrance requirements for state universities and must be admitted on a provisional basis. In the meantime, many students drop out of higher education because they spend so much of their financial aid or grant money on remedial classes, according to Argie K. Johnson, the general superintendent of the 410,000-student district.

"We can no longer allow our students to waste time," she said in a written statement. "We have to prepare our students to compete, and compete successfully, with other students across this country."

Some Chicago high schools already require more math and science coursework for graduation. And more than half of the city's high school students take more than the minimum, said Dawne Simmons, a spokeswoman for the school system.

The requirements are in line with the goals of the Chicago Systemic Initiative, a $15 million effort financed by the National Science Foundation to upgrade math and science teaching in the city.

The initiative also aims to have all students complete a full year of algebra by the time they finish the 8th grade.

Tough Standards

Improving math and science instruction in Chicago's K-8 elementary schools is essential if students are to meet the graduation requirements, said Beverly Tunney, the president of the Chicago Principals Association.

"It's going to be rough," she said. "It's not that we don't want to set high standards. But in some cases, it's going to be unrealistic."

"They're going to have to have a lot of remediation take place," she added.

ERIC Outten, the chairman of the local school council at Hirsch Metropolitan High School, said he supported the higher standards.

"If a child does not want to go to university, that's fine," he said. "But if we don't prepare that child properly, they have no choice."

Mr. Outten said raising graduation standards was the proper role for the central school board to play in Chicago's decentralized system of school governance.

"There is a need for overall systemwide standards," he said. "How we get the children to those standards are things I think are within the realm of local school councils."

Promotion Standards

The new requirements will be phased in from September 1996 to 1999.

Offering the additional coursework is expected to cost the school system between $12 million and $20 million a year to hire an extra 240 math and science teachers, create 1,200 more classes, and equip more science laboratories, the school board estimated.

The board also approved a policy last month specifying the minimum number of credits high school students must have to advance to the next grade. High schools now use different policies, which leads to confusion when students change schools.

Individual schools can still set higher promotion requirements.

Ms. Johnson last week announced a new project in cooperation with the City Colleges of Chicago to encourage more high school graduates to attend community colleges.

The students will be provided with support services to ease the transition to college-level work. The project also will focus on improving the retention rate of students who attend community colleges.

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