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Preparation for trades could count toward graduation under proposed legislation

welding educationBy Ashley Weigel
Capital News Service

LANSING — High school students could learn algebra while working with metal under legislation pending in the Senate.

The bills sponsored by Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, and Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, would give students more flexibility in classes they could take in high school. They could take an agricultural science or anatomy class in place of the traditional second year science class, swap a foreign language class for an industrial art class and fulfill the Algebra II requirement with classes that incorporate the material differently.

The Michigan Merit Curriculum enacted in 2006 allows little flexibility for students to explore a career field, McBroom said. All around the state there have been unintended consequences popping up because of the rigid requirements, McBroom said. Teachers who used to teach electives have been laid off, and the equipment used for these classes in some schools has been sold.

Modifying the standard requirements allows students wishing to pursue a trade more opportunities to take classes that address their needs, McBroom said.

The legislation is a priority for the Michigan Farm Bureau. “We’re not trying to lower the bar on education,” said state Farm Bureau President Wayne Wood. But industries such as those related to farming need more people coming out of school to be able to work as technicians such as welders, he said.

Hemlock Semiconductors, located in Hemlock near Saginaw, provides high school students with training and experience through working for them, Wood said. But that is a rare opportunity that needs to be expanded.

The National Federation of Independent Business in Michigan also supports the bills. Over the past decade, a shift in education focused on college preparation, said Charlie Owens, the state director for that group. Less attention was paid to career paths that don’t require a college education, such as construction and restaurant management.

The idea of these bills is to use vocational technical classes to prepare students for trade careers.  An example is teaching Algebra II in a metal working class where the math is taught and applied through calculating dimensions.

Owens said the Michigan Department of Education has expressed concerns about the changes and is negotiating with legislators. Critics who are concerned the plan could reverse gains under the Michigan Merit Curriculum.

The Association of Secondary School Principals testified in the House Education Committee that since the curriculum requirement change, graduation rates have increased by one percent and drop-out rates have decreased by four percent. Michigan schools need the Michigan Merit Curriculum to keep improving student performance, according to the association.

The bills have been passed through the House and are now in the Senate Education Committee.

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