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Area Educators Say New Diplomas Not Enough To Make Students Career Ready Out Of High School

Dave Herholz

There’s been a lot of emphasis in recent years about making sure Indiana high school students are “college and career ready” upon graduation.

But is it possible to accomplish both? Or would a more accurate goal be for students to be college or career ready?

The Indiana Career Council is in the process of redesigning the high school diploma requirements for the state’s public schools beginning with the class of 2022.

The goal is to make sure whatever path students choose, they are getting as high a level of academic challenge as possible.

A subcommitteeof the Indiana Career Council has been working on the new requirements for about a year.

The group is being co-chaired by Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

Lubbers says the current proposal includes three diploma options-- and much of the data being used in the redesign comes from the annual College Readiness report produced by the Commission for Higher Education.

Lubbers says the data is broken down by individual schools and is intended to let high schools see where their students—and possibly their curriculum-- are falling short.

“It allows them to look at their students and see how prepared they are," says Lubbers. "And then, of course, it allows the higher education institutions to know when they’re looking at students whether there needs to be special efforts to make sure they’re better prepared in certain areas and how we address that in college.”

Lubbers says the report does show positive trends. She says from 2012 to 2013,  77 Indiana counties saw improvements in the percentage of students who are considered college-ready.

She says most educators believe some post-secondary schooling is necessary for the majority of students—even if that isn’t at a four-year college.

“What we would say at the commission is that we have a goal of 60% of Hoosiers having quality degrees or credentials beyond high school," says Lubbers. "And right now as a state we’re at 34.7% in terms of an attainment level. And that might be a one-year certificate, a workforce certificate of some sort.”

TJ Rivard is an Assistant Vice President at Indiana University East. He also sits on the committee that is redesigning high school diploma options. 

“There are very few people, I think, who can parlay a high school diploma into a remunerative career,” he says.

Rivard says while some people might be able to get a job out of high school, few will have the education or skills to pursue a career.

“High school, it does what it’s supposed to do in the sense that it gives you this foundation to do something very specific eventually," says Rivard. "So whether that’s an AAS or whether that’s a certificate of some sort or whether that’s a four-year degree and eventually graduate school.”

But not everyone believes that.

Ann Marie Circle is the principal of Delphi Community High School.

“To be honest, the statistics show that a lot of the stuff that kids are going to need for their future career they may not even need to go to college,” she says.

Circle likes that the diploma redesign is putting a focus on developing a career path for students. But she says just changing the number of credits required without changing the curriculum won’t get kids ready to go into the workforce. And Circle says all of the accountability measures are geared towards college-bound students.

“They used to have a business math or they used to have more of a practical English class for kids who may have been on a different path," says Circle. "They’ve taken away all those. We’re hitting a roadblock with a lot of our kids on the Algebra 2 piece for some of those lower level kids who may go out and be able to do an agricultural career and never need that Algebra 2 component.”

Crawfordsville Community School Corporation Superintendent Scott Bowling is seeing the same issues with his students. He says economic development leaders in Montgomery County aren’t necessarily asking for college graduates to fill jobs, just skilled workers.

“I think we do need to recognize what the economy is telling us in terms of jobs and training, and I think we do need to provide those vocational resources as well," says Bowling. "And there needs to be room for that in the high school curriculum, and when you gear everything towards the Core 40 diploma I think you’re ignoring that fact.”

Bowling says his district has tried to respond to that need by creating an advanced manufacturing curriculum that can prepare students either for a job right out of high school or to move on to a certification program or an associate’s degree at a community college.

He says it’s a balancing act, though, because vocational education must be strengthened and students who want to go to college must be getting what they need.

“We do not want students hitting a 4-year university and looking back on their high school experience and saying ‘Gosh, I wish they would have prepared me better.’ That cannot happen,” says Bowling.

Ann Marie Circle says she has already submitted feedback about the new diplomas, but wishes there was more regular communication between the people making the decisions and those who have to implement new policies.

“I wish we’d be more proactive and have these conversations with the people on the front lines ahead of time and say ‘Hey, here’s what we’re thinking about doing. What do you think are going to be the benefits? What would be the best way to roll this out? What are going to be the drawbacks?” says Circle.

The diploma committee is expected to make a presentation to lawmakers later this summer.

Teresa Lubbers says changes need to be finalized by December so the legislature has time to look at what changes to state law might be necessary for the new diplomas to go into effect.

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