Moving to a single diploma and adding a fourth year of math should improve high school graduates’ chances of success in college and the workplace, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said in a conference call with business leaders and reporters Wednesday.
New high school graduation requirements — dubbed “The Ready Core” — were recently adopted by the state Board of Education and will replace the university and technical track diplomas.
“I’ve had the suspicion for a while that we’ve been doing a disservice to some of our kids by not having them adhere to the same rigorous standards,” Bredesen said. “Business leader after business leader across the state is basically saying ‘Look, the skills you need to come in and begin a successful career without a college degree are in many cases the same skills you need to become a successful freshman in college.’ We should not be shortchanging any of our kids by not giving them those skills.”
The new requirements will go into effect for the graduating class of 2013.
Students must earn an additional credit in math, an additional half credit in health/P.E./wellness, an additional half credit in personal finance, and an additional six credits specific to the students’ planned course of study.
The new standards are part of the Tennessee Diploma Project, the state’s attempt to align academic standards and student testing with post-secondary and workplace expectations.
A push to adopt the standards happened after Bredesen held a statewide series of meetings last year with business leaders, who said they wanted high school graduates to have better math and communications skills.
Among the conference call questions posed by business leaders, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and CEO Miles Burdine asked Bredesen: “How can we get more students attentive to the fact that they need to go on (to college) past the 12th grade?”
Bredesen responded by harping on the message that the world is changing.
“Up in Northeast Tennessee, there are generations of people who get out of high school, get a job at Eastman (Chemical Co.) and you’ve got it made,” the governor said. “I suspect there’s still a lot of people who want to do that, but there’s not as many jobs there now. Obviously the kinds of skills that company is looking for are much more complex now.”
Bristol Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lisa Meadows told Bredesen that the community is partnering with the local school system to hire a “graduation counselor” who will talk with students about their post-graduation options.
Bredesen also noted the state may tweak its education funding formula, known as the Basic Education Program (BEP), to accommodate the new standards.
“As these (school) districts confront the challenges, we want to work with them and say ‘Look if we need to be messing around with the BEP formula a little bit to recognize things, we’re willing to do that,’” he said.
Bredesen kicked off the conference call by reiterating what he said during his budget address to lawmakers Monday — that Tennessee moved up in Education Week’s public school rankings.
“When we talked about public education in Tennessee, we always seemed to be 40-something,” he said. “We’re still 41st in school financing ... but our overall score was 16th. ... Our standards assessment and accountability ranked 10th. ... I think that metric will climb even higher in the year ahead.”
For more information go to www.tennessee.gov/education.