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New graduation requirements criticized as unrealistic for all students

Dropout hearings seek ways to reduce the number of students leaving school early

Dropouts: One is Too ManyThe state’s new core curriculum requiring four years of math and four years of science to graduate from high school came under fire at a hearing addressing Michigan’s dropout crisis.

Diane West, a Lakeview Public Schools special education teacher in St. Clair Shores, criticized the “cookie cutter” approach of the new curriculum for all students.

MEA President Iris K. Salters at the first MEA-sponsored heaing on Michigan's dropout crisis in Grand RapidsMEA President Iris K. Salters (second from right) comments at the first MEA-sponsored hearing on Michigan's dropout crisis in Grand Rapids.

“These graduation requirements are unrealistic for all kids,” West said at the May 15 hearing at the Macomb Intermediate School District.

“We’re setting these students up for failure. Not all kids are meant to take algebra. There are many careers other than becoming doctors and engineers. We need education for all students.”

Jane Cassidy, a school social worker from Lakeview, said the state must provide alternative paths to graduation for students who can’t pass advanced math.

“We really need to take another look at this,” Cassidy said. “We cannot pretend that some of our kids can achieve what the state thinks they should.”

Linda Amrozowicz, a Dakota High School teacher consultant in Chippewa Valley Schools, said the one-size-fits-all curriculum won’t fit every student. “A student who wants be a graphic artist doesn’t see the relevance in taking algebra,” she said.

Gayle Green, assistant superintendent for instruction for Macomb ISD, said the new graduation requirements may very well increase the number of dropouts unless state legislators provide some flexibility for students.

“If we question the policy, we’re accused of retreating from high standards,” Green said. “But one size does not fit all students. Give students more flexibility, renew the call to give students more choices, and you will see the dropout rate reduced.”

The Macomb hearing marked the second in a series of 10 MEA-sponsored hearings to find sustainable solutions to the dropout crisis.

“This is an important conversation,” said Jack Kresnak, president of Michigan’s Children. “No one strategy will work for every school, for every student. We need to find out why students return to school—what works and what doesn’t work—so we can tell our legislators to do the right thing for kids and education policy.”

Every year in Michigan, an estimated 20,000 students drop out of high school, exacting a steep economic toll. “Every adult who doesn’t have a high school degree costs the state $127,000 a year,” Kresnak said.

At the first hearing on May 8 in Grand Rapids, teachers and students testified on the importance of establishing one-on-one relationships.

“That’s one key to keeping at-risk students in school,” Kentwood EA member Joe Pellerito said. “If you get to their heart, you get to their head. They see success, they see what success feels like, and they grow from there.”

An ex-gang member said he was reluctant to return to school after dropping out. “I didn’t want to come to school. I didn’t think anyone would be patient enough with me to talk to me. But as I came to school, teachers became more connected with me. I felt more comfortable, and I was encouraged to achieve more goals.”

The next public hearing on the dropout crisis is scheduled from 4-7 p.m. Thursday at University Preparatory Academy, 600 Antoinette, Detroit. Hearings continue thru early October.

Findings from the hearings will be presented to political leaders and the public at the Michigan Dropout Prevention Leadership Summit on Oct. 20 in Lansing.

For more information and the hearings schedule, go to www.mea.org/dropouts.

 

Updated: February 17, 2009 4:04 PM

 

Dropout hearings

South Lake Public Schools teacher Diane West: "We're setting these students up for failure." South Lake Public Schools teacher Diane West: "We're setting these students up for failure."

Jane Cassidy, a school social worker from LakeviewSchool social worker Jane Cassidy, Lakeview Public Schools: "We cannot pretend that some of our kids can achieve what the state thinks they should."

Chippewa Valley Schools teacher Linda Amrozowicz: The state's one-size-fits-all curriculum won't fit every student.Chippewa Valley Schools teacher Linda Amrozowicz: The state's one-size-fits-all curriculum won't fit every student.