By Roger Jankowski| Crain’s Custom Media
A new state law went into effect this summer aimed at helping students interested in pursuing careers in areas like building trades, advanced manufacturing and other technical areas. And according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed McBroom, it’s already having a positive effect.
The law gives students more flexibility in meeting some of their high school graduation requirements, and also makes changes to the Michigan Merit Curriculum.
McBroom says he first saw the need for such legislation based on what he was hearing from constituents across the board.
Businesses, he said, were no longer finding the kinds of skilled workers they had in the past. In fact, they weren’t even finding students with enough training or aptitude to be sent for further training.
“In the past,” says McBroom,” they could send qualified high school students to community colleges for further training.” But that was no longer the case.
“Something has changed out there” was what businesses were telling McBroom.
And indeed, something had.
With the implementation of the Michigan Merit Curriculum in 2004, vocational classes – and those students interested in such career paths – began disappearing.
“It was an unintended consequence” of the new requirements, says McBroom. He himself had been a public school teacher and saw the results firsthand.
With fewer students, vocational sections were no longer offered, vocational programs and centers were closing and equipment for shop classes was moth-balled and eventually sold.
The curriculum’s rigidity gave students little, if any, time to take vocational classes – especially since they were now considered to be electives. The situation was worse in rural areas (McBroom’s district is in the UP) where fewer sections in required subjects like English were available, thus limiting those students’ options even further.
“That’s why I sponsored the bill,” says McBroom. “It wasn’t a good curriculum for everyone. It left students with fewer choices.”
“There isn’t one good curriculum that sets up every student for success, says McBroom, “especially with the diversity of education – and career – opportunities available to students today. It can’t be a “one size fits all” solution. “
Trade unions and the Michigan Education Association supported the legislation, although groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Great Lakes Education Project (which were involved in conceiving the Michigan Merit Curriculum in the first place) were opposed.
Still, McBroom is certain this legislation will help students, businesses and Michigan’s economy overall.
“We need to be flexible enough to identify students’ strengths and goals and provide educational opportunities that meet those criteria.”
Since the bills were signed into law in late May, the feedback his office has received has been positive. “We’ve heard from superintendents, principals and students, all of whom have been supportive,” he says.
In addition, a lot of activity took place over the summer. Once the law went into effect, many school districts took action. Schools contacted students over the summer to let them know that new sections would be opening up in the fall in courses like welding, automotive, building trades and computer science. And those classes are already attracting a healthy influx of students.
But what about businesses and the worker shortage they face today? Although Rep. McBroom’s district is in the upper peninsula, last year he even heard from a company in southeastern Michigan – Severstal, a steel maker located in Dearborn.
They were having such a difficult time finding skilled trades workers in Michigan they were actually recruiting from out of state.
While the law that went into effect in May won’t provide immediate help to businesses like Severstal, he believes it’s an economically sound piece of legislation that will not only help students achieve their individual career goals, but will also help keep Michigan businesses in Michigan where they belong.
What’s changed as a result of House Bill 4465:
In May, Governor Snyder signed HB 4465 which became Public Act (PA) 208. It gives students more flexibility in meeting some of their high school graduation requirements and makes changes to the Michigan Merit Curriculum. For example, a student can take welding or another career tech class with the necessary math requirements. If the Department of Education and the State Board of Education approve, the student can use those classes toward meeting the state math requirement. The student can also meet half the requirement of two years of a foreign language with a career tech or art class.
In addition to fulfilling the science requirement through the required chemistry or physics classes, a student can take anatomy, agricultural science, or a course that provides at least parts of either chemistry or physics objectives assessed on the Michigan Merit Exam.
The new law also requires that students be informed about career and technical offerings and about a personal curriculum option that will allow them to still earn a diploma if they diverge from normal graduation requirements.
All along, supporters of the changes have insisted that not every student is going to college and career and technical programs should be considered a viable alternative to the Merit Curriculum requirements.