June 17, 2014 at 9:55 am

OUR EDITORIAL

Editorial: Keep Michigan Merit Curriculum strong

Legislature-passed bills will weaken student graduation requirements; the governor should veto

Last week, amidst the road funding and other budget discussions, the Legislature passed several bills that would weaken the curriculum taught in Michigan’s public schools. This legislation dumbs down standards in the name of flexibility and should be vetoed by the governor.

The arguments in favor of changing the curriculum have focused too much on the emotion of lawmakers and not enough on evidence for why the adjustments are necessary.

Gov. Rick Snyder is now reviewing the bills. He should send them back, though that doesn’t sound likely. A Snyder spokesman says the legislation encourages “more flexibility within the curriculum for skilled trades training, while maintaining the necessary rigor.”

These bills, however, go much further than that.

Eight years ago, when the Legislature passed the Michigan Merit Curriculum, the state went from having some of the least rigorous graduation requirements in the country to some of the most rigorous.

The current graduation standards require four credits each of math and English language arts and three credits of science. The standards also call for two credits of a foreign language.

As Michigan strives to improve its education standing among the states, it should not backtrack on these important benchmarks.

The bills would cut the two-credit foreign language requirement in half and allow students to fulfill that requirement in earlier grades — not just high school. Oddly, the reduced requirement sunsets after six years, and will return to two credits at that time.

The bills would also allow less difficult courses to count toward math and science credits. And students who have a personal curriculum could more easily get exemptions from math and science courses, among others. The ability for students to have a personalized curriculum is expanded, too.

Proponents, especially those from rural districts, say it would give students more freedom to pursue a vocational path. Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, has pushed hard for these changes the past few years. Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, has led a similar charge in the Senate.

“The current high school curriculum credit requirements are very rigid and students can struggle to find room for elective classes and those that can lay a foundation for a future career interest,” said McBroom in a statement.

He’s deviated little from these alterations, even in the face of valid concerns from Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair.

Pavlov voted against the legislation and believes the bills go too far in gutting the curriculum. He’s frustrated that his colleagues weren’t more willing to find middle ground. Pavlov, along with Michigan Department of Education officials, thinks there is enough flexibility under the law to incorporate math and science requirements into career and technical education courses. Some districts have done so with great success.

Most decent jobs require some form of higher education. And with technology becoming more integrated into the trades, the need for strong math and science skills is universal. A range of groups, from Michigan’s Education Trust-Midwest and the Detroit Regional Chamber, have made this case in defense of the current standards.

GOP lawmakers who supported these bills believe they are helping students by giving them an easier path to a diploma. But in reality, they are doing these young people a disservice by allowing them to bypass essential courses they’d need at a community college or beyond.

Snyder has proven a strong proponent of education standards, pushing for schools to do a better job preparing students for college and careers. He’s also recognized the value of jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree.

Gutting the merit curriculum does not fit that agenda.

Snyder should send the bills back and demand better from the Legislature.