As the legislature considers significant new investments in K-12 education, we need to ensure that these investments result in improved outcomes for children. One certain way to achieve this is by strengthening high school graduation requirements.
Our school system should prepare students for the next step in life, whether it’s additional education and training, or direct entry into the workforce. Too often, however, students leave the K-12 system without the knowledge and skills they need to take the next step towards gainful employment. And too often, our minority students are left behind disproportionately.
The facts are sobering. More than 55 percent of graduating seniors from the class of 2010 entering the community and technology college system needed remedial classes because they were academically unprepared for college-level coursework. Not surprisingly, the biggest area of need is math – over 50 percent needed remedial instruction – but reading and writing remediation needs are also high. Clearly, our coursework expectations are not well aligned with what colleges and careers require.
Not surprisingly, Washington also struggles to meet its own workforce needs. Comparatively, Washington’s graduation requirements are weak, and perhaps consequently, our skills gap is growing faster than most every other state in the nation (see slide 15). According to Washington’s Vital Signs Report, 31 states require more science coursework for graduation. Yet, according to the same report, there are two high-paying STEM-related job vacancies for every unemployed person in this state. Washington business leaders have been clear – we don’t have a jobs gap, we have a skills gap. When it comes to stronger STEM coursework requirements, we are among the states that need the most, and demand the least.
Currently, Washington requires a minimum of 20 credits for high school graduation, which is significantly less than a full course load in most Washington high schools. But a Washington high school transcript study found that, from a sample of over 14,000 transcripts, about 35 percent of students took a part-time course load as seniors. It turns out that when we expect less of our students, they tend to ask less of themselves.
Now more than ever before, rigorous coursework is not about preparing for college, it’s about preparing for life. Nationwide, the percentage of jobs that require education or training after high school has doubled over the last 30 years – to over 63% – and shows no signs of slowing. Furthermore, those with at least some education and training after high school are half as likely to be unemployed, and their salaries are nearly double that of high school drop-outs. Our high school coursework should prepare them for this reality.
To address these issues, the 2009 Legislature implemented a 24-credit graduation requirement framework into law. The strengthened requirements developed by the state board of education include additional coursework in core classes like English, and Science. The package also includes the flexibility to take career and technical education courses to satisfy academic requirements, or to receive credit based on demonstrated competency in the subject. But the legislature has thus far failed to step up and fund these requirements. In fact, recent proposals would weaken the requirements to change core requirements like Science and English into electives.
Please join me in urging the legislature to stay the course, and finally fund its promise of a meaningful high school diploma for every Washington student.
Video showing the flexibility in the 24 credit package
Our Skills Mismatch —