Building a New Student in Michigan

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Some of those who say they aren't planning to go to college consider the new rules an unfair burden. At a student assembly, McFarlane heard cries of "Why us?" when she announced the changes. Her response: "Because it's the right thing to do." Renee Bojanowski is a college-bound junior and honors student at Roosevelt. She says the grousing notwithstanding, the urgent need for a new attitude is beginning to sink in among members of the student body. When a university admissions director met with seniors recently and told them that they will need more than a diploma to qualify for the vast majority of desirable jobs, and showed them wage-rate charts, she reports, "it woke a lot of people up because it made them see that if they don't get more education, they will earn a lot less money."

For teachers whose lesson plans already are bloated with required content, it will be a challenge to cover the additional academic concepts the state is mandating along with the new graduation requirements. Chemistry teacher Tim Graham predicts the new content mandates in science and math will only exacerbate tensions between depth and breadth with which teachers must grapple. "Our [state proficiency test] scores show that we're bringing our kids along in terms of learning to think critically," he says. "We're wondering if we can continue to do that while covering the broader spectrum of skills required by the new rules." Schools could lobby the state to let them count the math and science concepts covered in such technical classes as architectural drawing (which is 90% geometry, Graham contends) and metals technology (which requires students to understand how varying levels of carbon content change the way steel reacts to being heated and cooled, for instance) to meet the new guidelines.

But that may be a long shot because currently many vo-tech teachers aren't state-certified as applied math and science instructors, according to Graham. "The issue will have to be dealt with eventually," he says, "or we're going to have a hard time." Despite such challenges, Graham agrees with his principal that the stricter mandates are appropriate. "It's going to be a fight initially and we might see the dropout rate climb a bit," he predicts. "But this is about having our students ready for where they want to go in life, with the ability to work in teams, reach conclusions, make connections, think logically and problem-solve, because those are the essential skills for the workplace now."

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