Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Detroit News editorial missed the mark

In last Sunday’s editorial page the Detroit News blasts school districts for finding ways to support student choice while making room for the much needed, and long overdue, updated high school graduation requirements <<>>.

Like many districts, Birmingham has always had graduation requirements which substantially exceeded the state requirements; even with the new standards BPS exceeds the state mandate by 12 credits (16 to 28). The new requirements did compromise our flexibility between application of science and math credits; that difference required the addition of an additional math course to fit the state model. Much of the logic of moving to a trimester is focused on the ability to offer students unique high school electives like any of our 50 modern languages, or 25 engineering electives, or 30 business technology classes.

None of these offerings make a “mockery out of [the] high school graduation requirement,” as Sharif Shakrani stated in the editorial. In fact, the ability to continue offering these electives, along with over 80 honors and advanced placement courses, was a prime motivator in the unanimous committee decision to move to a trimester schedule. These kinds of electives engage and build knowledge beyond the building blocks of the foundational graduation requirements. Preserving these types of electives paves the way to success in college and life. Scrapping these electives would be a travesty that far exceeds the joke that once was Michigan's high school graduation requirements.

Contrary to the assertion that “many administrators, teachers and union leaders are proving reluctant to follow state leadership on the high school curriculum” our educators have embraced the changes and provided leadership and sacrifice to ensure that our schedule provides the best possible offering to students. If Mr. Shakrani would have paused to recognize that the trimester, as a cost savings initiative, works only because teachers sacrifice planning time for teaching time (with no additional compensation) his conclusion may have been different. Under trimesters the average high school teacher will be teaching 20% more hours that under other systems. While no system is perfect, the trimester offers students and teachers more time together to work on the very basic graduation requirements that the editorial assumes are being sacrificed (with trimesters classes meet everyday as opposed to every other day). The fact we are faced with unrelenting cost pressures in healthcare and pension requirements (state level problems where the legislature and governor collectively have abdicated their responsibility) has created the need to be creative with schedules while striving to maintain rigorous standards.

Stop throwing mud at public schools and start looking to the many examples of how we accomplish excellence in times of economic strife. To borrow Mr. Shakrani’s phrase, our efforts continue to bear fruit; our students are consistently the highest achieving in the state. Come and visit the districts that makes it work while adapting to constant change, sometimes the answers are right under your nose.

Robert Lawrence

Birmingham Board of Education

1 comment:

Maureen Francis said...


Can you please drop me a note with your email address or phone #. I have an idea I would like to run by you.