Sunday, March 19, 2000

New graduation rules have schools scrambling

More credits will mean tradeoffs

The Associated Press

        DAYTON — Nearly three years after the Legislature increased the number of academic credits that will be needed to graduate from high school in 2002 and beyond, some districts have no solid plan to provide the necessary classes.

        Tenth-graders and younger students in those districts could face longer school days or extended school years.

        Educators and administrators embrace the idea of raising academic standards, but are still struggling with the tradeoffs: They could hire more teachers, increase class sizes, deny teachers days they use for planning and professional development, or cut back on electives that enrich students' career prospects.

        “We have to have teachers to teach this. That's a cost to the district,” said Elizabeth Arnett, education reform consultant for the Ohio Education Association. “You're not going to be able to teach mathematics to 100 students at one time with one teacher.”

        The varying extent of the problem can be seen by comparing the situation in Dayton and two smaller districts in Tipp City and Pickaway County. None of the three currently requires the 21 credits that will become the minimum under an academic standards bill passed by the Legislature in 1997.

        The Ohio Department of Education does not know how many school districts are short of the 21 credits or how many have plans in place to meet the new requirement, according to department spokesman Lee Ann Rogers. She said the agency has been reminding districts.

        Lawmakers raised the minimum from 18 credits and required more time for English, math, science and social studies. The required number of credits in electives, such as music, drama, Spanish or computer skills, will drop from nine to eight. Generally, it takes 120 hours of class time — or 150 hours of lab time — to accumulate one credit.

        Westfall Local Schools near Williamsport in Pickaway County requires a minimum of 19 credits. The south-central Ohio school district, which has 1,800 students and about 100 teachers, might cut some electives so more teachers can be used to teach the core subjects, superintendent Roger Crago said.

        Hiring more teachers would not be easy because the $22,800 starting salary is the lowest in Pickaway County, Mr. Crago said. He said the school board is discussing what to do, but no decisions have been made.

        Bethel Local Schools near the western Ohio town of Tipp City require 20 credits to graduate. About 870 students are enrolled in the district, which employs 56 teachers.

        “We're going to have to add staff eventually in the area of math and science,” said Superintendent Jim Gay. “And we're already tight on space, so that is going to be an issue.”

        Mr. Gay said officials are still discussing what to do. He said hiring more teachers and reconfiguring classrooms will cost money, and that the state has not provided money specifically to cover the cost of increasing credits.

        Dayton public schools also require 20 credits. With the flexibility that comes with much larger schools and staff, the district does not expect to have to hire more teachers or increase class sizes.

        But Camille Cooper, executive director of curriculum, said reducing the number of required electives could hurt students trying to tailor their education to their future careers.

        “It's really going to limit students' abilities to specialize in certain areas,” she said.

        The academic-standards bill was passed as part of a response to the Ohio Supreme Court's 1997 order to guarantee an adequate education to all students.

        “We want to increase and enhance the learning opportunities in those core subject areas, which are so critical in the workplace or college,” Ms. Rogers said.

        Many graduates are finding themselves unprepared for college and the work world because of high school requirements that ignore advanced math and reading skills, according to a report issued in December by the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust, which examines state academic standards.

        “Kids need to know more now and be able to do more. The world is more complicated and competitive,” said Amy Wilkins, policy analyst for the group.

        Ms. Wilkins said there is a “great deal of dissatisfaction” with the skills of high school graduates by employers, who have to invest “lots and lots of dollars” in worker training. And she said about 50 percent of high school graduates who go on to college have to take at least one remedial course.

        She said Ohio will get two financial benefits from raising the requirements.

        “The state should expect over time a decrease in the number of kids needing remediation in college, and they should see a decrease in employers having to spend money on worker training,” Ms. Wilkins said.


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