Changes in H.S. Graduation Requirements

We’ve come full circle and many educators predicted it.
In 2006, the Michigan Merit Curriculum was signed into law and at the time was one of the most comprehensive sets of high school graduation requirements in our country.  The thought was that everyone needs post-secondary education and/or training, which I believe to still hold true. In the message, however, was that all kids need to “go to college” and take college prep courses. Some will contend that this wasn’t the intended message but that is what our kids heard. As a result, the perception(s) of going into the skilled trades soured with students. Policy-makers under the guise of “let’s make everything more rigorous” were trying to make all students fit into a cookie-cutter curriculum. Some educators supported this change but many did not.

When this law was passed, many educators asked:
What about the arts (music, visual arts, etc.)?
What about the exploration of other subjects (like business courses, psychology, etc.)?
What about students getting the opportunity to discover what they like and/or are good at?
What about the practical, hands-on skill-based courses students need?
What about Career and Technical Education?

While the MMC didn’t preclude students from taking any of these courses, the fact that so many other courses were required strictly narrowed the scope and sequence of what students could realistically fit into a 4 year high school career.  At the time, I was a high school principal and I witnessed students agonizing over the fact that they couldn’t be in band and go to the vocational/technical center. I worked with students who struggled in Algebra II or a foreign language course when they wanted to be in an automotive or welding class. I counseled students who were required to take a tough college prep course like chemistry when their passion was in debate and forensics.

Choices were taken from students and the culture of high-stakes testing was in full force then and still is now.

Fast forward a decade, and now here we are listening to Governor Snyder propose expanding and strengthening career technical education. In a June 26 press release, the Governor stated, “We all have an important role in making sure every student has the opportunity to explore multiple pathways to a career that matches their interests and goals.”

In 11 short years, we have come full circle. The recent statements from TED (Talent and Economic Development), MDE, and the Governor’s office on June 26, is full of the same ideas that educators were concerned about when the MMC was forced upon students in 2006. Many of us educators thought back then what now the Governor is saying; that graduation rules need to be flexible to boost career education.

Imagine the possibilities, if policy-makers listened to educators in the first place? I realize that in any venture, the pendulum naturally swings, but it is frustrating to be a part of an educational system when educator’s voices are largely ignored. What has happened in the trades and other industries with the skilled worker shortages was forecasted by educators years ago when the MMC was implemented. We’ve come full circle and many educators predicted it.

The next time your legislator wants to make a change to something in the educational system, encourage them to ask an educator. Educators really do have a good sense of what our students need and deserve and most are in it for the long haul. They have seen the consequences of “pendulum swings” and have experiences to draw upon. These opinions might just be more suitable for decision-making than term-limited legislators that want to do something in the short term.