Is it Time to Reconsider Graduation Requirements for High School?

Candidly I asked two of my seniors what they thought of the required courses they took in school and how prepared they felt for life. Each young lady had a different stand point on the diversity of education they have received and multiple times used the term “real world” in their explanation. One student believed that although she was happy with the education she has received and feels prepared for college, she wished there were more elective opportunities to explore her interests as she doesn’t believe she will be studying courses like drama moving forward. The other student believed that schools should focus more on core subjects with a need to help everyone develop skills better that she felt had more application outside of a school setting. Interestingly, neither young lady believed or could even imagine high school looking differently than it does now even though they both agreed that it hasn’t changed much for a long time and maybe should. There is an ever changing world out that there and schools are always “trying” to prepare students for it. After all, if students will be successful in the “real world” then they must complete high school and then dutifully go to college or some other vocational program that prepares them for a particular job. And the main road to college is paved by states and the requirements they deem essential for students to “ready” them for what they will encounter. Although some minor course requirements are adjusted from time to time, the way school looks in general hasn’t changed much for a long time. As a matter of fact, the courses and prerequisites for graduation have remained relatively stagnant for at least the last 30 years. Here are the current graduation requirements in NYC:

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Although I see the reasoning behind these choices for course of study, isn’t it time to offer something a little less restrictive? Isn’t it time to invite student voice into the programming, allowing them to control what kinds of math classes or English classes? Isn’t it time to allow students to make choices about the way in which they learn and offer a truly blended experience if the school can’t provide the course that a student is interested in that would satisfy requirements? Certainly there are challenges for offering choice. Small staffs in small schools make it difficult or impossible for offer variety or multiple periods of electives during the same period when so many core classes need to be programmed first. This is a challenge my school has faced for years. Additionally, if a student gets behind in math or science and then has to be reprogrammed for those requirements first. Then there is no space in a program for choice. Can’t we reconsider the way we teach each of these core subjects within the context of something else? For example, as a newspaper teacher, I can teach a non-fiction English class that addresses writing and reading and speaking and listening with the same skill set. Social studies can also be offered thematically or interdisciplinary as humanities that will get people to reconsider content that doesn’t follow a textbook but rather consider the content in a way that will be both useful and engaging in a particular context. As we move deeper into the 21st century and technology continues to change what and how we have access to learning, we must consider the impact of these changes on our learners and adjust as needed. This is how we will serve students best.

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