How about a simple solution?

In recent times, in seems as though everyone talks about how complex and controversial education reform is and how many elements need to evolve for schools to become better. While many solutions put forward push for massive institutional change and heavy financial commitments, I ask, “How about a simple solution?” 

This post is exactly that. 

Let’s start with an even simpler question: What science classes did you take in high school, and in what order?

If you are with the overwhelming majority of people who graduated high school in the last few decades, you undoubtedly took Biology first, then Chemistry, followed by Physics, if you chose to take it. Most high schools in America, whether an elite private school in Westchester or a public SIG school in Chicago, offer these three science classes in that order.

Perhaps the better question is, why do schools sequence science classes in the way that they do?

Most people, myself included, would probably give a reason involving math, putting forward an argument that Algebra I is required for Chemistry and Geometry is required for Physics. Since most students only take Algebra I freshman year and Geometry during their sophomore year, they would not be qualified to comprehend the higher levels of science without the strong backing in math. Another often-held thought is that Biology is an easier course than Chemistry or Physics, so students will be more likely to pass that class during freshman year. These sounds like reasonable arguments, no?

Here’s the kicker: It turns out that, the real reason why high schools sequence their classes as Biology-Chemistry-Physics has nothing to do with math, student achievement levels, or even teacher certifications. Originally, some school administrator somewhere ordered these classes like so because they were in alphabetical order (B-C-P).

Yes. I know it is hard to believe. If you doubt that claim as I did, look up some historical information, and you will be just as surprised as I was. 

But what’s the “so what?” factor here? This past weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Michael Kuchar, Superintendent of Bergenfield Public Schools in New Jersey. Explaining the background of a Physics First curriculum, he flopped the order of the science classes in his district, so that all students, including honors and classified special education students, took Physics before Chemistry and then finished with Biology. 

How did Bergenfield High School do, you ask? In one year, proficiency rates on the Algebra I EOC test skyrocketed from a 36% passing rate to an 80% passing rate. That is an increase of 46% in one academic year!

My question: If such an easy fix can drastically improve student achievement in one year, what are other basic changes that we could make that could help transform our school system? 

Education Reform is often heralded as this massive beast that involves complex ideas and ideologies to completely overhaul the system. Switching Physics and Biology seems easy enough to me. 

Now, how about another simple solution?




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