As the State Board of Education works to adopt a new set of uniform requirements for high school students across Michigan, political debates are polluting what should be a bipartisan and cooperative effort. Proponents of both intelligent design and evolution are grappling over the new description of standard science courses. State legislators hold a responsibility to overcome partisan politics and pass statewide standards quickly while ensuring that their new plan is sufficiently funded.

Sarah Royce

A newly proposed state bill lays out expansive high school graduation standards that may require extra resources and effort on behalf of school districts. The board plans to alter state standards by adopting the “Michigan Merit Curriculum,” a program that would require students to take a wide spread of credits in various subjects rather than the one-semester civics course – currently the only uniform requirement.

As the state’s economy continues to suffer and low-skilled jobs become scarcer, high school coordinators hold a responsibility to prepare students for college and future careers. Creating state standards could cut dropout rates for universities and remedial classes for new undergrads – saving both students and universities money. Although the state should leave specific curriculum decisions to local school districts, these broad guidelines for high school graduates will ultimately benefit everyone involved.

However, the state also has a responsibility to make sure that the new curriculum has sufficient funding and teaching personnel. This problem manifests itself most clearly in the proposed foreign language requirement. The Michigan Merit Curriculum would include two credits of foreign languages – an important requirement, but one that will require many school districts to hire additional teachers. Such demands could prove difficult, particularly for low-income districts. Rather than dropping them, as state Rep. Brian Palmer (R-Romeo) did from the House version of the bill, the state would need to work with those areas to help them meet the new requirements.

Unfortunately, the bill’s passage could be slowed because of its wording for new science class standards across the state. The bill instructs that students will study various scientific theories and challenge the validity of those theories, leaving a place for intelligent design to be taught alongside science. Although the debate over teaching religion in science classes has generated national controversy, it has no place in statewide standards for graduation. No partisan issue should hinder policymakers from serving students’ best interests, and the language should be amended. Education is an invaluable asset to the continual growth of any society, and maintaining standards for students will determine the growth and development of the state in the future.

This new bill presents a unique opportunity for the state board to begin an important change in the structure of education in the state. Policymakers on both ends of the political spectrum want the best for students, and they can take advantage of this chance for bipartisanship and cooperation. The politicians must resolve their differences quickly to serve students’ best interests. Students deserve the best that the state can offer, and the state needs to do everything in its power to fund the program, find the personnel and remove politics from the equation.

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