(Note: In a Nov. 22 commentary, Mackinac Center Director of Education Policy Ryan S. Olson questioned proponents’ claims that new statewide graduation requirements would definitely improve Michigan’s public education system. Since the state assessment test taken by Michigan juniors demonstrates that students don’t have a solid grasp on civics — the current single graduation requirement — Olson doubted that new requirements will produce a different result.

In response to his commentary, Olson received the following e-mail query from a state legislator: "I am told by a colleague that most high schools do not require civics until 12th grade, while the MEAP is taken in the 11th grade, which, of course, would skew the results. Please verify the accuracy of that statement." Olson’s slightly revised reply follows.)

Dear Legislator,

Thank you for your e-mail.

It may be the case that some school districts don’t require civics until the 12th grade; however, this proves my point even further.

State law allows government/civics classes to be taken anytime in grades 9-12. However, since the state assesses civics competency in the 11th grade, it would make far more sense for the state to require students to take a civics class by the spring of their junior year. The state would then be able to quantify the effectiveness of its single graduation requirement to some extent.

When drafting regulations, state bureaucrats should have realized that if a civics class is so important that it is imposed on students by state law, then, following this logic, the state should also establish a way to make sure students are learning the subject. That certainly seems to be the spirit of state Superintendent Mike Flanagan’s proposed and expanded requirements.

As it stands now, students can be tested after taking a civics course or they can be tested when they have not — in strictly curricular terms — received any civics instruction. In the latter case, students would receive civics instruction after they've taken the state’s only academic measurement instrument, which means the state will have no idea whether graduates are competent or not.

The bottom line is that bureaucrats have failed in implementing a state law mandating only one credit as a graduation requirement, so they cannot report to legislators whether the existing graduation requirement has improved Michigan students' competency or not. On what basis, then, do we believe that these bureaucrats would be able to effectively implement a law that mandates 16 credits? Most importantly, what confidence can we have that this proposal will "change the face of public education in Michigan," in Flanagan’s words, if we have no idea whether it has "changed the face" of civics instruction?

Given this history, wouldn't parents be much more effective than politicians and bureaucrats in deciding what courses their children need?

Let’s keep discussing this important subject.

Sincerely,

Ryan Olson