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Oxnard School District to Consider Dropping Geography as Graduation Requirement

November 08, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Board members in the Oxnard Union High School District will consider tonight whether to eliminate geography as a graduation requirement.

District administrators argue that geography should be an elective because students need to concentrate on English and math--subjects students must master on a new state-mandated exam before they can graduate.

They say geography includes too much detail and that its basic concepts can be included in history classes.

By doing away with geography, the district would free instructional time for remedial students to brush up on reading and math skills. Students who are doing well could use the extra time to take an elective, district officials say.

"We are trying to remove from the curriculum any other courses that are not absolutely necessary," said Assistant Supt. Gary Davis.

Social science teachers, however, say students need a strong grasp of geography to understand the world. They argue that there is not enough time in other classes to fit in geography and note that not all social studies teachers are trained to teach the subject.

"It will put more stress on social studies teachers to cram more into their curriculum," said Robert Borneman, social studies department chairman at Oxnard High School. "And we already have too much to accomplish in our world civilization and U.S. history classes."

Borneman said the district would be shooting itself in the foot on standardized test scores if it eliminates geography as a requirement, because the subject is tested on the Stanford 9 exam and is part of the state standards. The state exit exam is a different test.

The board will discuss the topic at its meeting tonight, but may not vote until its December meeting. Whether or not to eliminate the subject raises the question of how school districts throughout California should handle the upcoming exit exam, which the Class of 2004 will have to pass to graduate.

Should districts narrow their curricula and emphasize basic skills? Or should they continue to require a broad spectrum of classes while making sure students don't fall behind in math and English?

"Some districts are taking the most ultra-conservative path and going back to the basics," said Pat Ainsworth, associate superintendent for the California Department of Education. "High school needs to be more than just the test scores."

Currently, more than 14,000 high school students at five high schools in Oxnard and Port Hueneme must pass the semester-long geography course or a district-approved geography test to receive a diploma. If the board agrees with the district administrators' recommendations, the Class of 2005 would not have to take geography to graduate.

Oxnard is one of few districts in Ventura County that includes the course as a graduation requirement.

In both Simi Valley and Conejo Valley, students study geography as a part of history courses. Fillmore also incorporates geography concepts into its history classes while Santa Paula requires a separate geography course.

If Oxnard's proposal is approved, students who want to take geography as an elective would be able to do so. But others would have the option of enrolling in electives that relate more directly to their future career or college plans, Davis said.

Borneman said that, given the choice, few students would select geography over art or music no matter how hard teachers try to convince them the course is important and interesting.

"De facto, it would eliminate geography," he said.

UCLA geology professor Nicholas Entrikin, who helped develop the state's Stanford 9 exam and the academic standards, said students who don't take geography courses would be at a disadvantage on the standardized tests.

"They are also at a disadvantage in terms of understanding their place in the world," Entrikin said. "The students are missing something essential in their high school education."

Without a basic education in geography, students would be ill-informed about world events, cultures, politics, economics and the environment, Entrikin said. They might also have trouble in high school history classes and struggle when they get to college.

Oxnard board member Nancy Koch said she is torn on the issue. Though she believes students need to learn about geography, she thinks they might get enough of the subject in other social studies courses.

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Correspondent Katie Cooper contributed to this story.

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