In Our View: Changing Diploma Rules

Stonier's bill recognizes realities of life after high school

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State legislators Monica Stonier and Paul Harris have extensive backgrounds in public education. For more than a decade, Stonier has worked in schools, first as a language arts and social studies teacher at the middle-school level and currently as a teaching coach for Evergreen Public Schools. Harris, a private-sector professional, served for 11 years on the Evergreen school board.With this combination of experience in instruction and education oversight, it's not surprising that Stonier and Harris are in agreement on a bill that would change high school course requirements in ways that benefit more students, by enhancing opportunities for students who are not bound for higher education.

House Bill 1656 has been introduced by Stonier, a freshman legislator, and will be reviewed on Thursday by the House Committee on Education, of which Stonier serves as vice chairwoman. Harris is one of the bill's co-sponsors. The Columbian recommends approval of HB 1656 by the committee on Thursday, and later by the Legislature, because it appropriately changes the image and role of high school to something more than just a prep school for college. By that traditional definition, many students who don't go to college are not sufficiently prepared for jobs in the trades, apprenticeship programs and other vocational skills. Also by that definition, the dropout rate increases as many students lose the inspiration to go to school. And indirectly, the local and state economies are negatively impacted by allowing a significant portion of the work force to go under-prepared.

Under the provisions of Stonier's bill, traditional high school courses could be replaced by classes focusing on specific careers that don't require post-secondary degrees, starting in 2017. Elective credits could be replaced by "career concentration" credits. Other changes include increasing required English courses from three to four credits.

Harris is one of 17 cosponsors of Stonier's bill. He is a Republican, and she is a Democrat, but in this case that doesn't matter. (Nor does it matter that Harris defeated Stonier in a 2010 race for state rep in the 17th District). What matters now is that both want to make high schools more efficient in preparing adolescents for prosperous adult lives. A similar bipartisan spirit is seen in the two other local sponsors of HB 1656: Democrat Sharon Wylie of Vancouver and Republican Liz Pike of Camas.

Two years ago, the Legislature reformed K-12 education by increasing high school credit requirements from 20 to 24, starting in 2016. Under Stonier's bill, college-bound students would retain the same opportunities, but the credit requirement would change to 22. That's still an improvement over the status quo, but it would allow vocational training students to better prepare for jobs that, although not requiring college degrees, often promise long-term employment and even impressive wages.

Educators and politicians are paying more attention these days to post-diploma realities. If reality means college, great. If it means a good job in a high-demand field without a college degree, that's great, too. But to focus on one path at the expense of the other is a betrayal of younger generations.