Monday, February 11, 2013

Every high-schooler deserves enrichment

Please - no to HB 1656; how is “less science and no electives” a win for kids?

Graduation requirements that Washington State PTA supports:
  • Career- and college-ready plan developed by the State Board of Education and embedded in the program of basic education; currently on hold pending funding
  • 17 core academic credits
  • 7 flexible credits
  • Students must attempt 24 credits; complete 22 to graduate
  • This brief video explains the plan we support

For years, Washington State PTA has been working to improve basic education and get the state to pay for the foundation kids need to pursue paths after high school. We thought we did it when we helped pass House Bill 2261 in 2009. Key to that reform effort was embedding the 24-credit career- and college-ready diploma into the program of basic education.

Fast forward four years and this state still doesn’t pay for a basic six-period day. And not only are the promised 24-credit career- and college-ready graduation requirements on hold, every year legislation is introduced to knock a few classes out of the mix.

This year’s effort takes aim at arts, science, world languages and electives.

House Bill 1656 has good intent in that it wants to promote career and technical education.  But the State Board of Education's requirements ALSO promote career and technical education, plus they build in room for kids to explore. Some teens know exactly what they want; many need time.

HB 1656 requires high school students to plot out a series of courses to support their career choice. The State Board of Education's requirements set aside classes for career exploration and ask for a High School and Beyond Plan, but don’t require 14-year-olds to track themselves just yet. They are allowed to take music “just because.”

Both HB 1656 and the State Board of Education's requirements call for three credits of math: Algebra, geometry and a third credit of the student's choice.

HB 1656 is titled, “Establishing statewide high school graduation requirements that permit increased flexibility for students to select courses based on their interests and plans.” But it turns out the “flexibility” in HB 1656 is about taking enrichment out of the mix -- science, languages, arts and open electives. This is a big concern for us, because in addition to making ample provision for education, the state must legally provide a general and uniform system of schools. Washington State PTA has fought long and hard to make sure “general and uniform” included enrichment. Those are often the classes that keep kids engaged in high school and give them the confidence to pursue paths after graduation.

Under HB 1656, kids lose a guarantee that they will be offered a third science class; that they can take a second arts or music class; that they can take world language, and that they can explore via two electives.

Why do this to kids?

The State Board of Education's career- and college-ready plan already allows kids to swap out arts and world languages for courses aligned to their High School and Beyond Plan. So what this trimming boils down to is dropping a science class and two electives for exploration.

That does not translate to flexibility. That translates to “sorry, enrichment is not a priority; science is not a priority."

Everything in our economy points to the need for innovative thinkers; for a deeper understanding of science and how it touches our lives; for the need to communicate across cultures and languages.

The State Board of Education’s requirements give kids a solid foundation. And if they have a particular goal in mind, the requirements give kids the flexibility to swap certain credits. And if like many teens, they aren't quite sure what course life will take, then kids graduate with a defacto well-rounded education that keeps all doors open to them.

HB 1656 does just the opposite. It requires kids to commit at age 14 to what sequence of courses they need for life and work. It puts them into a tunnel without electives and without exploration.

Kids need innovative and enriching experiences. They don’t need to be tracked.

Washington State PTA supports the State Board of Education’s career- and college-ready diploma and we worked hard to embed it into the program of basic education. We do value the arts; we do value science; we do value world languages; and we do value electives. We value infusing enrichment into basic education and believe it is an essential component of a “general and uniform” system of schools, per the state constitution.

RELATED: Testimony to Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee on SB 5477, which would create tiered diplomas.

- Ramona Hattendorf, Washington State PTA government relations coordinator

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