A group of largely Republican lawmakers is backing a set of bills that would weaken Michigan's Merit Curriculum. The new standards passed seven year ago and are starting to reap some results. It doesn't make sense to gut them now.
This is a similar push to one that emerged last session. But these bills seem to be gaining traction faster. More than 40 House Republicans have signed on to the bills, with some Democratic support.
The lawmakers say all students need to fulfill the same requirements, which call for more English, math and science before graduation. They don't see the value in making every student take algebra II or learn a foreign language. They argue that for kids who want to pursue a vocational career, such courses are a frustration and waste of time.
But are they?
Many of these same concerns were raised in 2006 when the Merit Curriculum became law. Most students are adjusting fine to a more rigorous course schedule, and scores on the ACT college entrance exam have risen since then.
Yet some school districts — especially those in rural or smaller communities — are having a tough time adopting the changes.
The requirements aren't that rigid. School districts have quite a bit of flexibility under the law to incorporate math and science benchmarks into career and technical education courses. Some districts, even small ones, are finding innovative ways to pique students' interest, while incorporating the standards.
For instance, Armada Area Schools has created a successful renewable energy program that fulfills math and science requirements. It's popular with students and should be an example to other schools around the state.
Plus, students can fulfill the two-credit foreign language requirement by taking the classes anytime during their K-12 career. That's a wide window. Given younger children learn languages more easily, elementary school is a great time to offer these classes.
State Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, is the sponsor of one of the bills, and he introduced a similar bill last year. He says the agenda is the same, but he argues this legislation is more of a compromise, offering smaller changes to the curriculum while keeping much of the rigor. Nonetheless, it still reduces requirements.
As Gov. Rick Snyder observed in a speech earlier this year, education ought to fulfill two goals: preparation for a future career and a student's enrichment. Much of what is learned in high school isn't necessarily applicable in day to day life. Yet that doesn't diminish its worth.
Senate Education Committee Chair Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, is taking a more cautious approach on changing requirements. His committee held a hearing last week on the matter, with both supporters and detractors testifying.
The Michigan Department of Education is firmly opposed to making any changes, and it is joined by a variety of groups, from the Education Trust — Midwest to the Detroit Regional Chamber.
High school is about preparing young people for the next step — and offering them a strong foundation no matter what path they take. It shouldn't be about locking a teen into a specific trade. Research shows an increasing number of jobs require some post-secondary education.
Since 1989, the number of workers with an associate's degree or some college increased by 42 percent; and the number with at least a bachelor's almost doubled, to 48 million from 26 million, according to a report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.
So even though not all students will (or should) go to a four-year university, they ought to have the tools they need to continue their education.
The desire for flexibility is understandable. But schools have that under current law. Changing it now would make life easier on some districts, but it's not the best decision for students.