During the November floor period, the legislature approved a bill that will make a Wisconsin high school diploma more meaningful to students, colleges and future employers.
Under current law, students must earn all of the following credits in high school in order to graduate: four credits of English, three credits of social studies, two credits of mathematics, two credits of science, and 1.5 credits of physical education.
Senate Bill 51 (SB 51) would require students to take three credits each in math and science in order to graduate from high school. Although the state sets minimum standards for graduation, 45 percent of school districts already require additional math credits and 37 percent require additional science credits in order to graduate.
SB 51 was introduced by the Joint Legislative Council and recommended by the Special Committee on Improving Educational Opportunities in High School.
I served as chair of the special committee. The committee was composed of both legislators and citizens with backgrounds in business and education. Throughout the course of the committee’s deliberations, witnesses shared information regarding the skills gap in Wisconsin and the strengths and weaknesses regarding college and career readiness in Wisconsin high schools.
Based on college remediation rates and feedback from employers, we know that many of our students are not graduating from high school with a sufficient knowledge base in either math or science. To be better prepared for the transition to college and careers, additional instruction in math and science, including applied math and science is important.
To that end, the Special Committee recommended an increase in the number of math and science credits required for a high school diploma. SB 51 increases the credit requirement beginning in the 2016-17 school year. This means that this year’s freshmen would be required to take three credits each of math and science if the bill becomes law.
In an effort to provide flexibility for students the bill allows students to fulfill up to one math credit by completing a course in computer sciences.
Many students take advanced math and science courses, but only 2 percent study computer science despite the fact that more than half of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs are in computing.
The bill also allows school districts to award up to one credit in math and up to one credit in science for approved career and technical education courses. This will allow students to take classes that are relevant to their chosen career path helping their future career prospects and assisting industry by graduating students from high school with needed skills.
It also gives students more incentive to branch into the field of computer sciences, which is one of the fastest growing fields and highest paying college majors.
The state’s No Child Left Behind waiver included this increase in required credits in math and science to improve college and career readiness. Currently, 30 other states require three credits in science while 28 states require three credits in math and nine states require four credits in math to earn a high school diploma.
Fred Humphries, Microsoft vice president for U.S. government affairs, said, “By counting computer science courses toward high school graduation requirements, this bill will help students gain the skills they need to succeed while building a stronger workforce for the future. We applaud Wisconsin’s leadership on the important issue of computer science education, which is a positive step to help sustain American competitiveness and innovation.”
By working with industry leaders like Microsoft, I believe this legislation will go a long way to strengthen math and science skills and prepare high school students for college and careers. I am hopeful that the governor will sign this bill into law soon.