The State Board of Education will eventually approve new diploma requirements for the state’s high school students, but after much public testimony around a variety of the changes, a new committee will re-work the requirements before sending them back to the board for approval.
While we wait for the final draft of the diplomas — state Superintendent Glenda Ritz says to expect them by April — we at StateImpact want to break down the conversation around these changes. There are discussions about many of the changes, and we want to explain the reasoning behind all of those arguments.
One of the changes that got a lot of pushback from the public is the lack of fine arts credits required in any diploma.
Under current diploma options, of which there are four, the only one that requires a student to take a fine arts credit to graduate is the honors version of the Core 40 diploma.
Kevin Gerrity, Indiana Music Education Association president, says while the fine arts community always wished all kids had to take a fine arts credit, they were content with that requirement. But when his organization, along with other arts advocacy groups, heard the state was looking to rewrite the diplomas, they saw it as an opportunity to inform the state of something they’ve known for a while:
“There is research that shows active participation in the arts actually changed students’ brains in ways that are very compatible with all of the things that the [SBOE] wants to do in order to make these degrees more rigorous.”
He’s talking about what education leaders in the state reference as “21st Century skills” – skills they think kids need to succeed in higher education or the workforce. These include things such as working on team, critical thinking or creative problem solving.
He and other fine arts advocates saw this time as an opportunity to push for a fine arts requirement in all the diplomas, but what they didn’t expect was none of the new diplomas requiring a fine arts credit. This led to a barrage of public comment on the subject, including an online petition with 3,000 signatures urging the SBOE to require the fine arts for all students.
Even though all students aren’t currently required to take fine arts, Gerrity says some of the other diploma changes — not necessarily the lack of requirement — are what might drive students away from the fine arts.
One of the more notable changes proposed is the addition of another math credit, which would make students take math all four years of high school.
Association Commissioner for Higher Education Jason Bearce says his organization wanted to add that extra math credit for all students so they keep those skills sharp for when they go to college or enter a career field.
Gerrity and many others’ concern is that by making all students take math all four years, many schools will have to hire more math teachers to meet the demand, which could lead to a cut in fine arts teachers to make it financially possible.
The other concern is, even if fine arts programs stay in tact, students might not have the room in their schedule to take arts classes because they have so many academic priorities.
“I don’t think there’s enough flexibility there,” Gerrity says. “We looked a lot at the numbers and we believe students would have to be near perfect, meaning they would not be able to fail any other courses or have to repeat a course in order to get the credits they need in all the other areas.”
But Bearce disagrees. The new diplomas include sections that are currently called “College & Career Readiness” as well as a group of elective credits that could include any fine arts classes a student wants to take.
“In no way would we expect fewer students to be exposed to or take courses in the arts or languages,” Bearce says.
In writing the new diploma requirements, Bearce says the CHE was constantly dealing with the tension of preparing kids well enough so they avoid remediation in college or struggle to succeed in a job and giving them enough flexibility to take classes they’re interested in.
“[We’re] requiring [credits] in those areas where it’s absolutely clear that if students don’t have that course work or those experiences they’re going to have dramatically limited opportunities post high school,” he says.
Gerrity says he wants to see students in Indiana experience the fine arts, and having that available in schools makes sure music, art and other creative endeavors aren’t an elite activity but for everyone.
When working on the diplomas over the next few months, Ritz said she will include a member of the fine arts community on the committee or task force created so these concerns will be on the table when creating the diploma requirements.