Much has been made of what many refer to as the knowledge-based economy — the proliferation of jobs requiring special training in mathematics, sciences and computers — in recent years, citing evidence showcasing that competitors in the global market are training their students in those exact fields to be engineers, computer wizards, chemists and other in-demand workers. We don’t begrudge that, and there’s ample data to suggest that our schools will need to continue their efforts to prepare students for such a job market, one replete with requirements in listings that are more and more frequently demanding bachelor’s degrees — or higher — in such fields. Yet we’ve long felt that Michigan’s tougher high school graduation requirements left some students in the dust: Particularly, those who have no aspirations toward such knowledge-based careers, which is why we are urging lawmakers in Lansing to approve a proposal from legislative Republicans to allow more flexibility in graduation requirements.
A coalition of state lawmakers, including some Oakland County Republicans, have proposed revamping Michigan’s high school graduation requirements to, among other things, decrease the number of math courses a student has to take from four to two — geometry and algebra II.
However, under the proposed changes, the student would be required to complete seven additional credits, which could be fulfilled by successfully completing at least two math credits, at least two social science credits, at least one science credit, or no more than two foreign language credits or one performing or visual arts credit.
According to the proposal, those seven credits could also be filled either through the current educational road map or through career and technical courses and training, including internships or apprenticeships.
In addition, Senate Bill 997 (an companion legislation introduced in the House) would require a half-credit — instead of the current one credit — in health education and a half-credit in physical education, which could be fulfilled by participating in a school sport.
Several years ago, when tougher and more stringent high school graduation requirements were put in place by the state Legislature, we applauded the aims of such an effort but lamented the fact that it seemed as though students whose career paths did not include two- or four-year university schooling were left by the wayside.
It seemed at the time that, with the trumpeting of the students eying jobs in the knowledge-based economy, those who aspired to be, for example, plumbers, electricians, or chefs got the raw end of the deal. Those students have little to no practical use for thorough or working knowledge of physics or calculus or nuclear chemistry, to name but a few. That fact still remains, and we are pleased that lawmakers are again taking up the cause of graduation requirement reform.
This is not because we want to lower the bar for Michigan’s students. Instead, we just want the bar’s height to be calibrated at a reasonable level for everyone — the math and science gurus to those who are more adept at working with their hands, the computer programming wunderkinds to those who work miracles as skilled professionals.
The proposals awaiting hearings by the respective Education committees of both the state House and the state Senate appear to accomplish that. Not only do they provide a level of flexibility not currently in place for Michigan’s students, but they also ensure that those students who are shooting for participation in the knowledge-based economy aren’t given the short shrift. What the Republicans are floating seems to accomplish the best of both worlds: Giving both math- and science-oriented students, as well as those whose career paths aren’t likely to require understanding of those subjects beyond a certain level, the opportunity to flourish in the economy as they see fit for themselves.
In addition, the legislation would accomplish something we’ve long called for — counting participation in high school athletics toward physical education requirements for high school graduation. Frankly, most students on high school sports teams are likely to get more physically out of participation in daily practices and/or games than an hour or so in gym class each day, so it’s good to see that some in Lansing are recognizing that and calling for that change, as well.
The proposals before the Education committees in the two legislative chambers are serious efforts at reform that allow for successful completion of high school as it should be — a stepping stone toward a career, whether that field requires in-depth knowledge of math and science, or whether it’s a skilled profession.
We urge lawmakers to give this proposal their support.