D.C. high school students would have to study more art and music, get more physical exercise and complete a thesis project under proposed changes to city graduation requirements.
The proposal by the D.C. State Board of Education would raise the total number of required high school course credits in the District from 24 to 26 — more than students need to earn diplomas in Maryland, Virginia and many other states.
But for the first time, D.C. students would be allowed to earn some credits outside the classroom, including through team sports, study-abroad programs and extracurricular arts and music performances.
“Our goal is to create high standards but also to provide flexibility for students and schools,” said Laura Slover, board president. “We really want kids to learn. Sometimes they do that in a classroom, and sometime they do that out of a classroom.”
The plan has drawn skepticism, however, from critics who question how and whether schools will verify students’ extracurricular activities.
“Certifying non-classroom hours only invites fabrication,” wrote Erich Martel, a former DCPS high school teacher, in a letter to the Current newspapers.
One proposed change — to eliminate the requirement that students take a course in U.S. government to graduate from high school — has already proven particularly contentious, particularly among advocates for civics education. Slover said she recognizes the concern and considers that proposal “open to discussion.”
The board will hear public comment on the proposed changes at its Wednesday meeting. It plans to vote on the proposal on March 20.
The proposal comes as the District struggles to raise graduation rates. Fewer than two-thirds of D.C. high school students earn a diploma within four years, giving the District a lower on-time graduation rate than any of the 50 states.
— Students would have to to take an additional unit of physical education, and organized extracurricular sports may count toward this requirement. Perhaps more important, students would also have to do an additional 225 minutes of physical activity every week — or 67.5 hours each semester — for all four years of high school.
The changes are meant to help address health problems among D.C. children, including high rates of obesity and diabetes. But it’s not clear what would constitute appropriate physical activity, or whose job it would be to certify that students have completed it.
Slover said those are details that can be worked out, citing the longstanding requirement that students complete 100 hours of community service in order to graduate.
— Currently, students take a half-credit of art and a half-credit of music. Under the new proposal, they’d have to fulfill that requirement and take an additional unit of either art or music. Students’ outside art activities — such as ballet or chorus programs — may help satisfy this requirement.
— Students would still have to take two years of a foreign language — but for the first time, it would have to be the same language both years. Online and study-abroad programs can satisfy this requirement “if their rigor can be verified,” according to the board’s proposal.
“We’re trying in nuanced ways to make global awareness and global studies more of a priority for the District,” Slover said.
— Students would have to complete a thesis project in their junior or senior year. This is not a new idea: The board adopted it years ago as a requirement for students beginning with the Class of 2011. But the requirement was either ignored or overlooked, and four years later, students discovered at the last minute that they were in danger of not graduating.
“The thesis requirement is a critical component of preparing kids for college and careers — being able to do research and marshal evidence from a variety of sources and write a cogent essay,” said Slover. “Schools should be providing opportunities to students to meet those standards.”