College & Workforce Readiness

Colorado Course Mandates Prompt Debate

By Alyson Klein — March 14, 2006 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As Colorado’s public universities move to boost their admissions requirements, the state’s rural districts worry they will have to sacrifice local priorities, such as arts and vocational education, to provide the extra math and foreign-language courses students will need to get into four-year public institutions.

Paula R. Stephenson, the executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, a Denver-based organization, criticized the new requirements at a meeting of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education on March 2. She contended that, coupled with a lack of funding for rural districts, the requirements amount to an encroachment on the state’s local-control law, which allows communities to decide how best to educate their children. She said rural schools will have to divert scarce dollars from other programs to attract qualified math and foreign-language teachers.

“The problem is, once you accept there’s a shortage of resources, school boards are faced with making decisions about whose interests they need to serve,” Ms. Stephenson said in an interview. She said local administrators must choose between “serving the values of special interests who believe we have to have much more rigorous math and science classes” or the values of the community, which “would like to see vocational education play a part in our high schools,” since many students will not go on to college.

But Matthew E. Gianneschi, the chief academic officer for the state higher education commission, which sets basic admissions standards for the state’s 13 public universities, said the revised requirements are not intended to inhibit local control of K-12 schools or limit options for rural students. He said it is simply a way for universities to tell students which classes will prepare them for college-level courses.

“We needed to be unambiguous to help the schools understand what the colleges expect,” Mr. Gianneschi said. “It’s not an imposition. … It’s an attempt to say, college is hard, it’s rigorous, students are going to work hard.”

Mr. Gianneschi pointed out that about 30 percent of recent high school graduates entering postsecondary institutions in Colorado need some form of remedial instruction before they are ready to tackle credit-bearing courses.

Global Competition

The discussion in Colorado is emblematic of a national debate that escalated this year when President Bush and members of Congress said they wanted to focus attention, and federal dollars, on Advanced Placement courses, particularly in math and science.

Colorado Credits

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education revamped its basic admissions standards for state institutions to include precollegiate course requirements. Spring 2008 high school graduates will need to complete all the courses in Phase I. Those graduating in spring 2010 or later must take all the courses in Phase II (revisions in bold).

Number of Units
Phase I
English 4
Mathematics (Algebra 1 or higher) 3
Natural/physical sciences (two units must be lab-based) 3
Social sciences (at least one unit of U.S. or world history) 3
Academic electives 2

Phase II English 4 Mathematics (Algebra 1 or higher) 4 Natural/physical sciences (two units must be lab-based) 3 Social sciences (at least one unit of U.S. or world history) 3 Foreign languages (must be same language) 2 Academic electives 2 TOTAL 18

SOURCE: Colorado Commission on Higher Education

Matthew D. Gandal, the executive vice president of Achieve Inc., a Washington organization that helps states raise standards, said Colorado is not the first state where policymakers seeking to raise admissions standards or high school graduation requirements have found themselves running up against local-control issues. He said similar debates have cropped up in Michigan, Indiana, Idaho, and Massachusetts in recent years.

Mr. Gandal said allowing districts to set their own standards no longer works in an increasingly globalized economy.

But Bob Mooneyham, the executive director of the National Rural Education Association, based in Norman, Okla., said the problems cropping up in Colorado are “symptomatic of what happens when curriculum is imposed from on high.”

He said policymakers should include rural districts’ views in crafting new requirements and be aware that rural schools have trouble attracting and retaining teachers who can lead classes in the subjects policymakers are now emphasizing.

Ms. Stephenson is hoping that Colorado’s higher education commission will keep those challenges in mind as it implements the new course requirements.

“We’re not trying to whine, we want to be a part of the conversation and we need a seat at the table,” she said.

The requirements, which were revised in 2003, are slated for implementation in two phases. The first phase, which affects those graduating in 2008, calls for students to take a certain number of classes in each subject, including three years of math beyond Algebra 1. The second phase, which will affect students graduating in 2010—those entering 9th grade this coming fall—requires two years of foreign language and four math classes on at least the Algebra 1 level.

Ms. Stephenson suggested that Colorado may want to hold off on implementing the second phase of its course requirements until the commission can be sure that the first phase is addressing its concerns about college readiness.

Mr. Gianneschi said the commission might be open to offering some flexibility, but he must first see data on how much demand the new requirements will create and how many new teachers the district will need to hire for each subject. He said local districts, including rural schools, need to continue to work with higher education institutions to ensure that all students interested in going to college can be successful there.

“K-12 and higher education are not against each other,” he said. “K-12 and higher education are intimate partners.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as Colorado Course Mandates Prompt Debate


Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum What Will It Take for Schools to Get Better?
Find out what educators and leaders can do to incite lasting and productive change that will make a difference in the lives of students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness 'I Didn't Really Learn Anything': Graduates Face College After Pandemic Disruptions
Recent graduates are heading to college after spending much of their high school careers dealing with pandemic upheaval.
5 min read
Angel Hope works on a math problem, part of an intense six-week summer bridge program for students of color and first-generation students at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, Wis., July 27, 2022. Hundreds of thousands of recent graduates are heading to college this fall after spending more than half their high school careers dealing with the upheaval of a pandemic. Hope says he didn't feel ready for college after online classes in high school caused him to fall behind but says the bridge classes made him feel more confident.
Angel Hope works on a math problem as part of an intense six-week summer bridge program for students of color and first-generation students at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, Wis., July 27.
Carrie Antlfinger/AP
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion How to Make College More Affordable? Try the Charter School Model
A new organization is exploring how to make space for new colleges to emerge that also challenge the status quo.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness In Their Own Words Stories of Tenacity: 3 First-Generation College-Bound Students Keep Their Dreams on Track
The pandemic upended college plans for more than a million young people, but not these seniors.
6 min read
Araceli Alarcon and Nathanael Severn, seniors at San Luis Obispo High School, pictured in downtown San Luis Obispo, Calif., on June 7, 2022.
Araceli Alarcon and Nathanael Severn, seniors at San Luis Obispo High School, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., will be the first in their families to attend college. While the pandemic complicated their plans, both teenagers persisted in their path to start college this fall.
Morgan Lieberman for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says 5 Ways to Make Online Credit Recovery Work Better for Struggling Students
Seven out of 10 districts use online programs for credit recovery.
5 min read
Image of person's hands using a laptop and writing in a notebook