The future success of our state is sitting in our classrooms.
This entails economic success, societal success, and personal success for the
people of Michigan. A quality education is the lynchpin of that success.
To plan for the future we need to act today, and the need to
improve Michigan high schools is urgent. We can’t wait five or 10 years.
The State Board of Education approved in December a set of
improved state high school graduation requirements that establish a core level
of high school credits to prepare Michigan students to succeed after high
school, starting with the freshman class of next year.
We must embrace this effort to expect more out of our high
school students so they aren’t left behind by the rest of the world
economically. We must insist that all students master the content of the core
subjects of math, science, English language arts and social studies, as well as
a world language, art and health. And we must believe, on a moral and economic
level, that all kids can and will achieve this.
The State Board of Education approved in December a set of improved state high school graduation requirements that establish a core level of high school credits to prepare Michigan students to succeed after high school.
More than 60 percent of employers report that high school
graduates have poor math skills, and nearly 75 percent report deficiencies in
grammar and writing skills. These new, rigorous high school requirements, not
surprisingly, are strongly supported by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the
Michigan Business Leaders for Education Excellence.
Institutions of higher education are finding an increasing
number of newly-enrolled students having to take remedial math and writing
courses in order to meet the basic challenges of community college and
university coursework. Currently, only one semester of civics is required for
high school graduation under state law, placing Michigan far behind the
requirements of all other states.
In order to compete with highly-educated students around the
globe, we need a rigorous curriculum of math and science, along with strong
reading and writing skills. We have heard too many stories of American jobs
being sent overseas to China or India. Those nations are training their students
in math, science and engineering to meet the employment needs of this new global
knowledge economy. Michigan must insist on nothing less for its students.
As Gov. Jennifer Granholm has vowed to go anywhere and do
anything to bring in new businesses and industry into Michigan, we need to send
a loud and clear message that Michigan’s high school graduation expectations are
more than just a semester of civics. We need this to restore our economy by
developing workers who will meet the needs of 21st century industries. If this
means state-set credits or graduation requirements, then that is what we must
The state Legislature is ready to move on this. House Education
Committee Chairman Rep. Brian Palmer has drafted legislation to increase
graduation requirements, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Wayne
Kuipers has scheduled hearings around the state to receive public input. These
legislative leaders understand the importance of a more rigorous education and
are prepared to step forward in this regard.
The State Board recognized that these more rigorous graduation
requirements are not meant only for the high school students planning to go to
college. To the contrary, employers across Michigan are demanding students with
a basic mastery of these core skills. The preparation students need for success
in college is the same as the preparation required for success in the workplace
after high school. These graduation requirements must focus on the knowledge and
skills students must have to succeed in whatever direction they go after high
Four years of English language arts and math, including algebra
I and II, and three years of science are among the requirements as well as three
credits of social studies, two credits of world languages, and one credit each
of health, physical education, and visual and performing arts.
We need to pry ourselves from the old thinking that not every
student can learn at this level. They can. The key here is to actively engage
every student, exhibiting how this knowledge is relevant to their lives and
their future, and be flexible in how the course content is delivered. For
instance, schools can teach economics in a social studies class and relate it to
the fundamentals of capitalism, inspiring students to be entrepreneurs.
The State Board of Education’s plan is rigorous, not rigid. It
would impose a designed course structure while providing relevance and
flexibility for all students and school districts. What the plan would not do is
fill in every hour of a student’s class day. It’s saying: Have students take
algebra I and algebra II instead of lower-level math, and physics and chemistry
instead of community science. Schools have the teachers now to instruct students
for a full day. This plan directs schools to have their teachers teaching the
content that will help all students attain the level of education they need to
Students still will have the opportunity to take career and
technical courses, art and music, and a foreign language, which are important as
well. The plan is flexible and relevant for all students, and even though it
requires students to learn algebra I and II, they still will have the ability to
learn those same concepts in a building trades class instead.
The State Board also requires that all high school students take
the Michigan Merit Exam, or the alternate MI-Access assessment for students with
severe disabilities; and that all students complete at least one on-line credit
or non-credit course or learning experience in order to graduate. This on-line
course requirement has gained national attention and notoriety as being bold,
innovative and unique across the nation.
The cornerstone of the plan is that all students learn the core
concepts of math and science, learn about our world and how our government
functions so they can be valued participants in the process, learn how to
effectively communicate, express learning through creativity and learn how to
live healthy lives. It will evolve Michigan from being a rust belt, blue collar
state to being a high-tech and high-skills state. That is a goal which everyone
can agree upon.
Mike Flanagan is the State Superintendent of Public