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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

February 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

What does our diploma mean? Not much, employers say

Michael Osbun / Op Art

Michael Osbun / Op Art

There is little argument about the facts: Fewer than half of all graduating high school seniors in Washington meet basic requirements for admission to public universities, and hundreds of employers say our high school graduates do not have adequate skills in reading, writing or math — even for low-level jobs.

In Olympia, there have been various responses — everything from requiring more hours in class, to mandating tougher graduation requirements.

“Even carpenters need to pass Algebra 2 if they want to be certified,” says Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, who has sponsored a bill requiring more science, language and career education for high school students.

She joins the state Board of Education in pushing for a 24-credit diploma to boost rigor over our current 20-credit benchmark.

“What is a meaningful high school diploma?” Lytton asked in an interview. “We know that what we’re doing right now is not working.”

Indeed, 58 percent of Washington’s community college students need to take remedial classes before they can even start working toward a degree.

But a chorus of teachers, counselors and school administrators — including Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn — warns that neither more class time, nor better career training are possible at current funding levels.

“Unless you have the money to spend for more teachers, it becomes more difficult to pull off college and career readiness,” Dorn said at a legislative hearing last week.

Lawmakers have 38 days before the end of this session to wrangle the budgetary picture into place. While they do so, a coalition of 40 parent-and-education groups is boosting the pressure, circulating a petition in support of the 24-credit diploma.

“It’s time to stop debating and get this thing passed — this session,” said Mary Beth Lambert at the League of Education Voters, which blasted the petition out to 20,000 supporters on  Monday. “Parents and community members need to know that fewer than half of all graduating seniors can meet the basic college admission requirements. We’re hearing from employers that only six in 10 students are considered qualified for jobs.”

The petition signatures will be delivered before March 13, which is the final day for this legislative session. But Lambert urged parents to get involved immediately.

“The sooner, the better,” she said. “This is an ongoing drumbeat.”

Comments | More in News | Topics: graduation requirements, Washington state legislature


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