Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s budget sets aside a collection of financial incentives for state high schools still lagging in the race to boost academic standards. The payments would be shelved out to schools according to the number of graduates that complete the Michigan Scholar Curriculum — a comprehensive learning program that raises the state’s benchmark for academic achievement. The plan, which goes into effect during the 2006-07 school year, is exactly the type of push state schools need. Top-down encouragement and positive financial incentives could prove valuable tools in reforming the state’s high schools, but as with any across-the-board education reform, some schools are bound to fall behind. Granholm’s challenge will be to continue these innovative reforms while simultaneously providing a safety cushion for those schools that cannot keep up.
The governor’s curriculum plan was recommended by the Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth, a panel that Granholm created last year to come up with ways to double the number of Michigan residents with college degrees. The curriculum mirrors the program most college-bound students already follow — four years of English, three each of math and science, three-and-a-half of social sciences and two years of foreign language. By 2011, under Granholm’s plan, the payments given to a school would be based solely on the number of graduates who complete the curriculum. If approved by the state Legislature, it would be the first state-mandated change in the high school curriculum since 1995.
Granholm presented the changes as a way to both increase the number of state residents with a post-secondary education and enhance the skill level of state’s labor force. Indeed, as the line between the skills required for college and those needed to enter the work force are slowly blurred, separate curriculums become less and less necessary in high school. Also, as the governor stressed in the State of the State address at the beginning of the month, college degrees are growing ever-more essential to the job market, so efforts should be made to get more graduates to further their education.
In addition to pushing more students to attend post-secondary education, this plan is also sensible in that it gives schools the incentive to reform internally, rather than imposing obligatory standardized tests, as many states do, to determine the school’s funding. The school, in Granholm’s proposal, is pushed to achieve a better learning atmosphere, rather than squandering it resources on less-needed technical classes.
As with any major educational policy, there may be some unpleasant side effects from this reform. Yet despite possible disadvantages, which may include increased pressure on faculty to spike graduation rates and performance gaps between schools, the need for higher standards and an educated workforce are simply more pressing. Measures should be taken to help ensure that all schools in the state have the resources and personnel capacity to implement the demands of the new curriculum.
Although it is hard to blanket school standards across districts of disparate resource bases and income levels, striving to raise the bar for academic achievement is nonetheless commendable. The Michigan Scholar Curriculum and the funding that follows it will encourage schools to create better learning atmospheres and most likely help to bring about the long-term changes Granholm is hoping for: a better educated and highly skilled workforce.