The D.C. State Board of Education had hoped to finalize new high school graduation requirements by the end of the year, but now may wait until early 2013 to give the public more time to weigh in.
“We’re really looking forward to having opportunity for more dialogue,” said President Laura Slover at the board’s September 27 meeting. “What we want to do is put forward a robust, comprehensive vision for what students need to know and be able to do, in academics and more broadly ... in order to really be productive citizens.”
Under the board’s draft recommendation, issued in August, students would have to earn 24 total credits, same as now. What’s been tweaked is the courses that are required — and those changes have received mixed reviews from parents and educators.
One change — to reduce the number of required social studies credits from four to three — has been particularly unpopular. It would mean collapsing World History from two credits to one, and would squeeze U.S. History and Government into one course.
Members of SHAPPE — the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators — roundly reject that idea, according to minutes from the group’s August meeting.
Students “arrive with large holes in their understanding of these subjects,” the minutes read. “These courses prepare them to be citizens of the world.”
Other key changes in the current proposal:
• Instead of half a credit in art and half a credit in music, students would be required to earn two credits in either art or music.
• The required credits for health and physical education would climb from 1.5 to 2 credits, and students could earn half a credit through participation in a sport. In addition, students would need to do 50 hours of physical activity each year.
• Students would have to complete a thesis project in their junior or senior year.
The thesis idea isn’t new. The board adopted it years ago as a requirement for freshmen entering high school in 2007-8. But the requirement was either ignored or overlooked, and four years later, students discovered at the eleventh hour that they were in danger of not graduating.
Cathy Reilly, a parent activist and founder of SHAPPE, noticed the problem at the time, and the state board passed an emergency rule to allow those students to graduate.
Reilly said the board is in danger of repeating history unless it more carefully considers who will be responsible for overseeing the thesis. It needs to be embedded in a course, she said, so schools have enough staff — and students have enough guidance — to complete it.
It’s also not clear who would oversee and certify student’s completion of 50 hours of physical activity each year.
The board is in the midst of putting together a revised proposal that incorporates feedback it’s received.
“We may not have considered the unintended consequences of changes we’d like to make,” board member Patrick Mara (Ward 1) said at last week’s meeting.
The public will be able to comment on the updated proposal before the board takes its final vote. That vote had been scheduled for December, but Slover said it may need to be pushed into next year to ensure enough time for community input and deliberation.
Jack Jacobson, a Dupont Circle activist and candidate for the board’s Ward 2 seat in this November’s election, urged board members to do a better job justifying their proposals.
“Most parents don’t have time to attend Board of Education meetings, and are unable to engage with the proposed changes without knowing the reasons for them.”