Schools struggle with new curriculum mandates from state
By DEB WUETHRICH
Tecumseh is one of many Michigan school districts that are struggling to apply — and to make sense of — the finer points of the new Michigan Merit Curriculum. The new high school graduation requirements place even more emphasis on the mastery of mathematics and languages than previously required, and adds some new twists, such as mandating that students receive at least one credit through an on-line learning experience. The law applies to students who entered the 8th grade in 2006, or the graduating class of 2011.
Tecumseh Superintendent Mike McAran said one of the things behind the new curriculum was the mass exodus from the state.
“What Michigan is after in talking about the 12,000 people leaving the state is that some of them are college graduates who leave because they want better jobs that don’t exist in Michigan,” McAran said. “The plan is to train our own (workers) and they think if they can get the requirements up to produce brighter kids then more technology and more jobs will be brought back to the state and there will be a better chance the economy can switch around in Michigan.”
Problems have arisen, however, as various schools work to interpret the new rules and how to apply such concepts as common assessments, so that students taking a given subject will all be educated the same way and their mastery of a subject would be assessed in the same manner; and something called a “personal curriculum” which is the only means for a student to be allowed to deviate from the spelled out requirements.
“This requires a process similar to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for special education,” said McAran. “You have to have four meetings with the parents, students, principal, counselor and a psychologist. Add this up times how many kids might be involved with a Personal Curriculum and you have a nightmare. The state has no idea,” he said.
THS Principal Bob Scheick said that the school is looking for alternative plans to assist students who do not pass the required courses the first time around since the plan is so rigorous that falling behind will be a detriment to students as well as to the school. “We have to look at this in a different way than we have in the past,” he said. “We can no longer look at having kids take additional classes to restore credit. We have to look at this as getting kids to master the curriculum.” Scheick said the district is in the process of notifying parents that this might mean such additional classes could be available on a fee basis. “Even though we have teachers willing to teach in a 9th hour after school, as one idea, or in the summer, we can’t do that continuously and take the money from the budget because it will eat us up,” Scheick said.
Board member Debbie Johnson-Berges said that the new requirements mean that there will be more emphasis in areas such as math, science and English and less fine arts, for instance. “We will have to reduce the number of fine arts courses offered outside core curricular offerings in order to make up for these requirements,” she said.
Another Board member said not all students would be able to successfully follow the new requirements, and used an example of a student who studies fine arts through a dual enrollment program and excels at it, but likely would not make it through the path established with the new requirements. “When we try to fit every kid in the pigeon hole of this curriculum, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Matt Oren. “I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but it just makes me livid when they (the state) dictate what we have to do down here.” He said such directives leave school districts scrambling to figure out how to implement them. “Just last year, the Board had to look at going from a seven period day to a six period day, with a possible elimination of seminar in order to cut spending,” he said. “With this Michigan Merit Curriculum, it will gut our arts program so it almost ceases to be.”
“Things are radically going to change for schools in Michigan,” said McAran, “supposedly to make a more intelligent group of people.”
Johnson-Berges said one of her fears is that just at the time schools figure out how to implement the current criteria, the state will come out with the next “latest and greatest.”
In other business:
• Heard from Liz Phelan, a parent of two elementary aged children, who is concerned about the number of closed and delay days the district has experienced and how the students would make up for that instructional time.
• Discussed security cameras at the high school, with Scheick describing a capital projects proposal to add and upgrade cameras to provide better coverage in hallways, stairwells and the cafeteria. A proposed $13,769 would add seven cameras to the existing 13, and an additional $10,000 would upgrade the software to a 25-camera system, which is currently capable of handling up to 16. The board passed a resolution to allow the administration to develop specifications and seek bids for this and several other capital improvement projects including window repairs, high school lighting changes, and clock repair.
• Authorized the district’s athletic director to apply for a permit with the Lottery Commission in order to pursue a Home Give-A-Way raffle by selling 1,000 tickets for $250 each, an arrangement with the Pat Pelham family. The district estimates that proceeds could total approximately $26,000.