News

Graduation tougher for everyone?

By KENNY CHING

Staff writer

Federal Way high school students of the class of 2008 and beyond may be asked to satisfy more graduation requirements than their predecessors.

The potential new standards, still being debated by the School Board, would consist of:

• An increased half-credit (a half-credit equals 90 50-minute classes) in social studies being substituted for a half-credit of electives.

• And a 13th-year plan, meant to encourage students to be thinking about what they will do after high school and a culminating project.

The new curriculum would be an attempt to meet a state mandate to better prepare students for the reality of the work world, particularly in regards to technology in the workplace.

However, the new requirements still leave about 80 percent of Federal Way students out in the cold because they are geared primarily toward the 20 percent of students who are bound for a four-year university, claimed School Board member Charlie Hoff. The rest will exit high school unprepared, he said.

Therefore, it would be premature to pass such requirements onto the students without offering more alternatives and support to the large majority who are not necessarily headed for a four-year university, Hoff said.

The requirements, while fine for a select fifth of the students, are not comprehensive enough, according to Hoff. Two primary things need to happen to address the needs of Federal Way students, he said: Greater attention needs to be paid to vocational training so that students have the opportunity to go into productive, profitable professions that do not require a university education, and students need more guidance earlier in their academic lives so that they are focused on the purpose of education.

However, others say that one of the proposed new requirements –– the 13th-year plan –– will help such students actively plan their post-high school future. According to Mark Jewell, Federal Way Public Schools’ chief academic officer, every student –– not only the university-bound –– must do the 13th-year plan, which will force them to think about a variety of post-high school alternatives.

But Hoff said much more is needed.

Hoff points to Oregon’s Reynold High School as a model for what Federal Way high schools could be. Reynold’s primary recommendation is its 4 percent dropout rate, compared to Washington’s 32 percent dropout rate, he said.

At Reynold, students choose a major, similar to a college major, in 11th grade. Each major has varying requirements designed specifically to educate a student in a particular field of study. Students can choose from majors in almost any field, from journalism to construction to biological science to automotive repair. Hoff said the alternatives help engage students in their own education.

Additionally, students need to be aware that their education, even if they don’t go to a university, can mean the difference between a job that pays $6 per hour and one that pays $60,000 per year, Hoff said.

Students need guidance counseling that helps them focus on the purpose of their education in the seventh and eighth grades, otherwise many students become engrossed in the social aspect of school, he said.

Hoff said he would not support the new graduation requirements and that if the board passed them over his objections, they should not expect him to support the requirements thereafter.

Board member Earl VanDorien Jr. said he favors the new requirements. He said that in the future, students could be offered the choice between pursuing a technical diploma or an academic diploma, but for now the requirements should be approved.

Board member Ed Barney said that while the vocational aspect, also know as “career and technical,” will need to be addressed, he sees no reason not to implement the new requirements as a start in the local effort to improve education.

Staff writer Kenny Ching: 925-5565 kching@fedwaymirror.com

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