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Changing Michigan's educational focus

There’s a push to change Michigan's high school graduation standards to encourage more students to pursue vocational training. But state education officials oppose the proposed changes.

The current merit curriculum has been in place since 2006. The goal was to prepare more students for college. But some state lawmakers feel the requirements are steering students away from vocational training. Their proposals would drop foreign language and Algebra Two requirements for students pursing vocational technical training.

State Representative Ed McBroom says many students in his district in the U.P. want to work with their hands.

“There are so many great opportunities…and we’re shunting all students over into areas where…they spend time, money energy on…and then decide ‘I didn’t really want to do that any way…and I would rather be studying this’," says McBroom.

State Representative Peter Pettalia, another Upper Peninsula Republican, says employers in his U.P. district want to hire more high school students with vocational technical skills.

“Between our farmers…our sailors…our fabrication businesses …our auto repair businesses…we need today entry level workers,” says Pettalia. T

he changes are supported by a wide range of industry groups.

However, the Michigan Board of Education opposes the proposed changes.

State Board of Education member Eileen Weiser says the merit curriculum was changed in 2006 to make Michigan school children more competitive in a changing economy.

“80% of the top 50 fastest growing jobs will require education beyond high school. 40% of all new jobs will require at least an associate’s degree…and 2/3rds of all new jobs will require secondary education,” says Weiser.

But supporters of the bills say many high school students are being set up to fail with the current requirements.

The bills’ sponsors say many students would do better if they were allowed to focus on vo-tech classes and sidestep classes that they do not need.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.