As far as the state is concerned, the only thing Michigan high school graduates must know is 20 weeks worth of American government. In hopes of strengthening the state’s graduation requirements, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan has proposed a plan that would increase the number of state-mandated credits from a half credit to 16 credits. The change would put an end to the embarrassingly lax graduation requirements that not only damage the value of a high school diploma and turn off potential employers, but can also deprive high school students of the basic knowledge needed to succeed in college.

Jess Cox

But a simple state mandate is not sufficient. It will take the backing of additional state funding to needy school districts to ensure that every district has the resources and teachers necessary to comply with the requirements.

Because of stricter local requirements, few students feel burdened by, or even notice, the one semester of civics that the state requires. But local requirements can vary widely, and while some school districts tend to impose structure on a student’s four-year curriculum, districts can keep requirements low in order to boost graduation rates and cope with a shortage of teachers qualified to teach science and math. Only students in districts with less stringent standards will feel the new requirements; they will now have to complete four years of English, three years of math, three years of science, three years of social studies and one year of health and physical education – nothing too different from what most districts already require. But students must now also complete one year of fine arts and one Internet-related course, and their math curricula must include a course in algebra.

The plan provides only a rough outline of the subjects students must study in high school, allowing districts flexibility in determining how students can complete these requirements. Final authority to set curricula rests at the local level, even though stricter state standards ensure that students receive certain fundamental skills.

The essentially nonexistent state graduation requirements can take a heavy financial toll on students who complete only the bare minimum district requirements and may not be prepared for college-level coursework. Enrollment in remedial college courses is on the rise and can cost students thousands of dollars for what could have been avoided had their district required a couple more math classes.

As Gov. Jennifer Granholm pushes to double the number of college graduates in Michigan, high schools can play their part by making sure their diplomas reflect a curriculum that meets the basic standards of the state’s public universities. But a state mandate requiring districts to provide more stringent graduation guidelines must come with sufficient funding to pay for costs that will be incurred at the local level. Of particular concern is the new online requirement, which may catch poorer school districts

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