02/23/10 — Graduation requirements change

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Graduation requirements change

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 23, 2010 1:46 PM

Students need to be better prepared for the future, whether they go on to college or directly into the work force.

So, starting with this year's freshman class, all high school students must have four math credits to graduate.

Previously, only three math credits were required, officials said.

The additional credit requirement will be for everyone, regardless of their plans after high school.

The revamp is part of the rotational review of curriculum done by the state.

History revisions were also on the list, stirring up a national controversy after the state released several planned drafts for the revised approach to teaching the subject.

Last week, the state announced it would "rework" the plan that called for select segments of American history to be taught in schools.

The efforts are all part of the "future-ready core" initiative, officials said, designed to create 21st century graduates able to compete in a more global climate.

One of the biggest changes centers around requirements for teachers, said Ralph Smith, lead science teacher for Wayne County Public Schools.

"EC (exceptional children) teachers in the past have been able to teach core subjects to the special ed kids. And now federal policies are saying that everyone has to be highly qualified in the core areas," he said. "We're facing the issue of how are we going to be able to teach math and science and social studies to the EC, which we haven't had to do before because the EC teachers did that."

Two science classes have been proposed in contrast with the standard course of study -- applied science and OCS (occupational course of study) biology, Smith said.

While the measure is still in draft form, Smith said, it is positioned to start in 2010-11.

Math changes took effect with this year's freshman class, said Joyce Cunning-ham, lead math teacher for the district, who said the plan came as no surprise.

"We talked with employers about what they want, and it came from teachers and community leaders," she said. "We have known this was going to take place since 2007. The State Board of Education did a study and the state board came up with the future-ready components."

One basic premise dictated the move, Mrs. Cunningham said.

"In the past, we have found that students didn't graduate prepared," she said. "Skills they need, whether they go to college or the workforce, are basically the same. For them to be ready, whether it's the job market or college, they still need to have the same skills."

For the most part, students are ill-equipped to know what they want to be when they grow up.

And that's understandable, Mrs. Cunningham said, not only from a youth's vantage point but also because of one very stark reality.

"One of the things we hear over and over, we're really educating children so that they can take on a job that we don't even know about yet," she said.

"(Or) that doesn't even exist right now," added Smith.

Anticipating what the economy will be, or the job market for that matter, creates another challenge in education, the officials said.

But in response to the business community, they have been tasked with providing classes that will offer skills to ready future employees.

"(Students) really don't know what courses they probably should be taking," said Mrs. Cunningham. "This future-ready will help them be ready if they do change their minds."

The additional math course requirement will benefit students who decide late in high school -- or even after graduation -- that they want to go on to college or a community college.

While there are specific math classes students must take -- Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II or Integrated Math I, II and III -- the fourth will be aligned with the student's educational plan.

Understandably, Mrs. Cunningham said, there will be students who have difficulty with the rigorous course of study. For those, an alternate route is being developed.

"We have come up with strategies we believe will help all students be successful," she said. "We are already pretty successful teaching Algebra I to all students. ...

"Some will struggle with geometry. We're thinking that if they have more time they're going to get it, too, so we are offering preparatory courses -- foundations of algebra and foundations of geometry."

Those courses will not afford math credit, though, but instead will count as an elective.

On the other end of the spectrum, education has changed vastly over the years, with an increasing number of students being dual-enrolled in college classes, graduating from high school with some college credits and even in some cases an associate's degree.

In contrast to years ago when students directly entered the workforce, the need for a high school diploma and beyond, as well as additional skills, is being realized, the officials said.

"I think education is the key to employability not only in terms of the amount of money they'll make but the likelihood of even having a job," Smith said. "Not only do people with an education make more money a year but with the high unemployment rate ... we're talking about not making decisions for people about what their future will be. We're saying everybody needs to be prepared."

Once upon a time, the "three R's" referred to reading, writing and 'rithmetic. The state adopted its own version several years ago -- rigor, relevance and relationship -- to which Wayne County Public Schools has added two more, Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"Routine and regular practice, and that's what helps us be effective with our teaching and learning process so that our students will be ready for the future," she said.

"It's part of our mission statement -- being globally competitive for work and ready for the 21st century," Mrs. Cunningham added. "The mission really will support that future-ready core."

It's also becoming a nationwide push.

"Forty-eight states have agreed to have a common core curriculum so that if students move from state to state, they'll have common skills," Dr. McCullen said. "Every five years, curriculum is revised but now there's more conversation. It truly is becoming a national standard."