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Bill Offers Less-Rigorous Diploma Option

June 20, 2008

By Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press

Jun. 20–LANSING — After weeks of hearing mostly from educators and policymakers, a House subcommittee looking into the state’s tough new graduation requirements heard from one of those most affected — Harley Timmons, a 15-year-old from Grayling who described a freshman year that involved insurmountable workloads and little time to get extra help from teachers.

As a result, he failed several classes, including algebra I, which he is making up in summer school.

“I’m for improved education for today’s students, but not at this pace,” Harley told lawmakers Thursday.

Harley and his mother, Cindy Timmons, testified in support of a bill that would offer an alternative to the rigorous graduation requirements the Class of 2011 is the first to have to meet.

Among those mandates: Students must take four years of math, including algebra I, geometry and algebra II; four years of language arts; three years of science, including biology and physics or chemistry, and three years of social studies. In the first year, there has been widespread concern about the level of failure among freshmen taking algebra I.

Under legislation sponsored by state Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, the state would create an alternative high school diploma that students could earn to graduate, one that would require three years of math, with no algebra II requirement; two years of science, with only biology required, and three years of career and technical education classes.

Sheltrown said he doesn’t believe his proposals lower the standards the Legislature approved, but they do provide an option for students who may be unable to complete the more rigorous classes now required.

Sheltrown’s legislation was one of three alternatives discussed during Thursday’s hearing. Timothy Bartik and Kevin Hollenbeck, senior economists at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, proposed the state have two diploma options: one that mirrors the current requirements, and one called an associate’s degree prep option. The latter is similar to Sheltrown’s legislation, requiring three years of math, with no algebra II.

The economists said the current requirements are a one-size-fits-all approach that would result in more dropouts and a watered-down curriculum, Hollenbeck said.

Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, told lawmakers his group strongly supports the high standards within the current requirements. But he said an alternative is needed for a small percentage of students.

Contact LORI HIGGINS at 248-351-3694 or lhiggins@freepress.com.

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