In December of last year, the State Board of Education adopted a
proposal calling for mandatory, statewide high school graduation requirements.
It is a lofty goal, to be sure, with a large and diverse smattering of courses
for students to sample. In fact, it is essentially a start-to-finish format for
four years of high school instruction. It is visionary and packaged to send a
strong message regarding the improvement of our children’s education.
That being said, it doesn’t answer several fundamental
questions. What basic building blocks will every child, regardless of their
life’s ambition, need to succeed? How do we measure success? And where is the
all-important parental involvement?
If you were to travel around the state and ask the proverbial
"man on the street" what should kids be taught in school today, I have a hunch
that the answer you would get would be a mixed bag, varying greatly based upon
the region, gender and age of the respondent. However, I would be willing to bet
that when you boiled it all down, everyone could agree that students should be
learning math, science, reading and writing, sort of a modified version of the
"3-Rs" (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic) of education.
These are the basic, most fundamental units of learning. Once
you successfully master these skill sets, a whole new world of learning opens
up, not just in the traditional classroom setting, but in any setting a person
may find themselves.
21st Century Schools, 21st Century Skills ... is focused, responsible and enforceable, while keeping a majority of the decisions for how a child is educated with those closest to the child — the local district and the parents.
We have areas of our state with rates of functional illiteracy
that exceed 60 percent. We have students entering college who need years of
remedial math to catch up to where they should have been coming out of high
We cannot attract the types of businesses to this state, the
high-tech businesses that we desire, with a workforce that is this dramatically
under-prepared. We as a state need to stand up and declare that our children
must meet a standard of education whether they are schooled in Ishpeming or
21st Century Schools, 21st Century Skills is a curriculum we
have developed to encourage parental involvement and individual attention in
selecting a curriculum path for students, a curriculum that has set standards
and requires reaching measurable goals to complete. Our plan is focused on what
is essential to success, not scattered to include a wide variety of elective
options. These options, while important, should best be left to the local
districts to implement or require, not be a part of "a one-size-fits-all"
directive from Lansing.
The key is in having a common set of course-level content
expectations in the curriculum for all schools to meet. The State Board of
Education has some of these already completed. All of them, however, need to be
completed before we can hold our schools and our children to any kind of new
standard. It simply isn’t reasonable to expect all districts to agree on what
English I should be if they are left to their own devices. This would invite a
scenario where one district could offer an English I class with readings from
"War and Peace," while another may offer something called English I with a "Dick
and Jane" story. The two would not be equitable, and would defeat the purpose
for having a common curriculum.
21st Century Schools, 21st Century Skills calls for a standard,
core curriculum to be in place for most students. However, at the start of a
high school career, a student and his or her parents would have the option to
sit down with a school counselor to plan a unique curriculum path for the child.
The path would include as much of the core offerings as possible, while allowing
for the interests of the student to be met. The parents would commit to
quarterly interactions with the faculty to monitor progress and the path could
be revisited on a yearly basis.
This is the level of flexibility that must be in the system in
recognition of the fact that not all children are the same. For example, not
every child is going to go to college. Some will go on to a trade school, some
will serve our country in the military, some will set out on their own and
become part of our next generation of entrepreneurs. But whatever they do, they
need a foundation in the basic skills that one needs to have to survive in the
modern world. Gone forever are the days of leaving high school to go directly
into the factory. To that end, alternative means of delivery have to be
available. For example, geometry and algebra can be learned in construction
trades. We should be encouraging more vocational-technical training, dual
enrollment, and articulation agreements between community colleges and other
higher education providers.
Some may say that not all students can achieve the level of
rigor spelled out in both proposals, that it will be "too hard." I reject that
argument as the soft bigotry of low expectations. Students can and will learn
what they are taught. The key needs to be the "new" three R’s of education:
relevance, rigor, and more relevance. We need to re-evaluate the way lessons are
taught to ensure that our teachers reach all students. With the amount of money
we commit to education and the level of compensation that educators receive –
compensation that is among the tops in the nation – we simply must get a return
on our investment.
Any statewide curriculum has to address the fundamental
questions of basic skills, measurable standards and goals, and parental
involvement. 21st Century Schools, 21st Century Skills answers all of these
questions. It is focused, responsible and enforceable, while keeping a majority
of the decisions for how a child is educated with those closest to the child —
the local district and the parents. Michigan cannot afford to let another
generation of students slip through the cracks; our future depends too much on
them to stand idly by and watch our jobs and our economy head further south. Our
children are depending on us.
Rep. Brian Palmer, R-Romeo, is chairman of the House