Momentum builds for tougher curriculum

National and state task forces weigh in

A coalition of 13 states, one of them Michigan, has formed on the heels of February’s National Education Summit on High Schools for the purpose of improving the nation’s secondary schools.

American Diploma Project

The bipartisan, nonprofit Achieve Inc. announced that it had succeeded in creating a network of states to undertake an initiative called the American Diploma Project. According to an Achieve press release, "Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas … are committing to significantly raise the rigor of their high school standards, assessments, and curriculum to better align them with the demands of postsecondary education and work."

In Michigan, Gov. Granholm has shown an inclination to take on the task of strengthening high school curriculum. She introduced a provision into the fiscal 2004-2005 budget known as the Michigan Scholar Curriculum, which would propose that students take four years of English, three years of math, three years of science, three-and-a-half years of social studies, and two years of a foreign language to be better prepared for college, according to a Lansing State Journal report.

Likewise, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth put together an "EduGuide" for Michigan eighth-graders suggesting that the prospective high-schoolers schedule four years each of math, English, science and social studies, and three years of a foreign language. The recommendations were put together in part by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

The call for tougher curriculum has been led mainly by Achieve, Inc., an organization formed in 1996 by "the nation’s governors and business leaders." Current Achieve Co-Chair Bob Taft, Ohio’s governor, explained in February that Achieve will undertake the role of coordinating the nationwide American Diploma Project effort to "restore the value of the high school diploma."

Achieve officials see the ADP initiative as an important step in strengthening high school education. They report that they conducted a poll in which 40 percent of high school graduates said they were not adequately prepared for employment or postsecondary education, and that if they could repeat their high school experience, they would work harder.

Achieve network states serve about 35 percent of public high school students in the U.S., according to the Journal.

The Cherry Report

In Michigan, the governor’s office seems to have been on the rigorous curriculum bandwagon since 2004, when Gov. Granholm charged Lt. Gov. John Cherry with heading up the Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth. The commission was formed with the intent of "identifying strategies to double the number of Michigan residents with degrees and other postsecondary credentials of value within ten years." In the commission’s final report, it recommended that the state Board of Education develop more rigorous curriculum, in line with "the competencies necessary for postsecondary success and readiness for the world of work," and deferred to associations like the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan for recommending specific curriculum content.

Gongwer News Service reported in April that Lt. Gov. Cherry said in a presentation of his report to the Board of Education that the board should use "whatever means necessary" to "move ahead with graduation standards for Michigan high schools." The Cherry Report draws a direct relationship between holding a degree and enjoying a higher standard of living (based on unemployment rates and median weekly earnings figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics). It conjectures that Michigan’s economy is in a period of transition from low-skilled manufacturing jobs to a work force that requires more skills, and connects the need for postsecondary success with the necessity for more rigorous high school curriculum if Michigan is to experience this transition smoothly. According to Gongwer, the lieutenant governor would be supportive of legislative proposals to require four years of science and math.

Many of the theoretical curriculum initiatives, however, are not without their detractors, according to Lansing State Journal reports. Some educators feel that tailoring a curriculum for college preparation would come at the expense of students who seek vocational and career training. Others, such as high school guidance counselors, say that they already recommend that their students pursue rigorous high school core classes.

At least for now, personal curriculum management, beyond school district-imposed graduation requirements, is up to Michigan’s high school students.