LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Future hairdressers need to know math and science to safely mix chemical hair dye and high school students looking to be auto mechanics have to be able to read complicated manuals.
Those are some of the reasons cited by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in her new push to have all Michigan high schools have more students take tougher courses before graduating.
In her budget proposal last week, she laid out a plan that would give schools incentive payments starting in the 2006-07 academic year if they encourage more students to follow her “Michigan Scholar Curriculum.”
The curriculum mirrors what most students on a college preparation path already take: four years of English, three each of math and science, three and a half of social sciences and two years of foreign language.
Chuck Wilbur, Granholm’s deputy chief of staff for policy and planning, said more students need to be on that path because the line is blurring between the skills required for college and those needed to enter the work force.
“Those distinctions are not relevant anymore,” he said. “If you don’t need a difference in skill sets, you don’t need to separate the curriculum.”
A few high school principals said they like the idea, but are worried that using a curriculum intended to prepare students for college could be too much for some students and may limit the school districts’ flexibility to offer students a wide variety of courses.
Escanaba High School Principal James Hansen said a safety net should be provided for students who cannot keep up with a rigorous college prep curriculum. He also pointed out that upper-level courses would require highly qualified teachers. Both would cost more money.
“Whether you like it or not, it gets tied to dollars,” he said. “If we move into a (tougher) curriculum for everyone, we better have a mechanism that helps kids when they fall.”
Granholm promised she’d give incentive payments in 2006-07 to schools that encourage more students to follow the “Michigan Scholar Curriculum.” But she didn’t offer any details on how much money that might be.
By 2011, under Granholm’s plan, the payments would be based solely on the number of graduates who complete the curriculum.
The “Michigan Scholar Curriculum” was recommended in a report by the Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth headed by Lt. Gov. John Cherry. Granholm created the panel last year to come up with ways to double the number of Michigan residents with college degrees.
Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, said the proposed change appears to be aimed at the wrong problem. Most schools already offer advanced math and science classes, but some students refuse to take them.
“You have the horsepower to do it, but you don’t have the bodies,” Ballard said. “We’ve got to get everybody convinced that it is important, not to just get an A, but just to take the class.”
The Democratic governor included the change in her nearly $12.8 billion school aid fund proposal for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. If it’s approved by Republicans who control the House and Senate, it would be first change in the high school curriculum since 1995, said Michigan Department of Education spokesman Martin Ackley.
Local school districts set their own curriculum, often closely in line with guidelines from the state Education Department. It’s unclear how many high schools already have a curriculum similar to the one needed for incentive payments because districts do not report their course offerings to the state, Ackley said.
St. Johns High School Principal Mark Palmer said the school wouldn’t have to make many changes to follow the proposed curriculum. But he questioned whether the focus on college prep would hurt career training and other offerings in vocational education.
“You need to have flexibility for those students who may not be going to a four-year college, but going to an apprenticeship. You have to the flexibility to create a program that helps all students,” he said.
Roger Gustafson, director of career and technical education for the Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District in the Upper Peninsula, said he is worried the new curriculum will mean more dropouts because students who learn better with hands-on lessons and activities may not have that option.
“I don’t think every student can fit into the current way that subjects like English and math are taught in a typical class in the typical way,” he said. “They should not be leaving behind that whole group of students … who might not be able to jump through those hoops.”
Palmer also noted that while high schools would receive incentive payments for implementing a new curriculum, some might go along with it solely to get more state revenue.
School districts now are getting at least $6,700 per student and could get at least $6,875 for K-8 students and $6,925 for high school freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors starting this fall if lawmakers approve Granholm’s latest school aid proposal.
House Education Committee Chairman Brian Palmer is among the lawmakers now taking a look at the proposed change. He said he was surprised to the see the curriculum proposal laid out in the school aid budget and questioned who came up with the requirements.
“The Legislature isn’t aware of this at all,” the Romeo Republican said. “This isn’t the way it’s going to get accepted at all. … If we don’t work on these reforms together, they’re clearly not going to get as far as we need them to get.”