Friday, June 27, 2014

Changes to the Michigan Merit Curriculum, WL edition

NB A link to the full law, as well as the excerpt of the relevant paragraph, are below. +

HISTORY: In 2007, Michigan passed a law called the Michigan Merit Curriculum.  Among other things, it required a minimum of 1 high school credit in static or performing arts, 1 credit per year (up to 4) in mathematics, including algebra 2, and 2 years of world languages other than English or equivalent experience.  The world language requirement would come into effect for the graduating class of 2016 (the students who start 11th grade in the fall), giving schools 3-6 years (depending on how close they wanted to cut it) to gear up that program.

REVISED LAW: On Tuesday, Gov. Snyder signed an update to the above law.  Its objective was to increase flexibility in high school scheduling, especially in regards to career and technical education.  It allows students to replace their algebra II class with a similarly rigorous CTE course.  It also allows students to fulfill up to one of their WLOE credits by taking extra art or CTE, up through the graduating class of 2020 (that's the class that just finished 6th grade and will begin 7th grade in the fall).

ANALYSIS: Replacing math with CTE  is cool, because there are lots of opportunities for using data and building mathematical models and interpolating and extrapolating and real-world trigonometric functions in careers and technical training.  We had a CTE course on robotics for a few years in St. Joe County; I'll bet they got their math on in THAT course. 

The replacement for WL is more nebulous. It allows students to swap out one of their years of WL for another "elective."  Art (including music) and CTE are valuable courses, and all too often we compete with each other for high-level students.  It's hard enough for juniors and seniors to take one of these things, because they're required to take English and math all four years (which I approve of), plus get all their other requisites in.  It's nearly impossible for them to take more than one.  This change does give them some flexibility to pursue individual interests, and that's a good thing.

The difficulty I'm having is in this: in the not-all-that-long-a-day, not-really-very-much-of-the-year, often-interrupted structure of the world language classroom, genuine acquisition takes a long time.  Only the original legislators know why they wanted 2 years of WL in the original bill, but the Michigan World Language Association, the state organization for language teachers, recommended two years as the minimum amout of time necessary for students to reach the Novice High level of competency*.  This is defined** as being able to fuction in common, everyday communication situations that presented no difficulties.   Cutting this requirement down to 1 year means students with no other language experience will have enough competency to recognize when the language is being spoken and feel bad that, after ONE WHOLE YEAR (probably like 140 hours, or two weeks of what you were exposed to when you were a baby learning English), they don't understand anything.

I'm not sure I have room to complain, really.  Students are still required to take a minimum of one year of a world language, which is more than was required before.  Many students will continue to choose to take the second year, since this is still a requisite for entry into most colleges.  The ones who don't, though, the ones who choose to take only one year...It's better than nothing, it will be good for them, I'll make it worth their time, and they'll leave being able to speak a little Spanish and understand a lot more.  Besides, 1 required year is where the entire arts department currently rests.  I guess I'm a little offended because this is so clearly schedule manipulation, based not at all on research in education or language acquisition, but on what state lawmakers view as the priority for our schools--making sure students have time in schools to learn skills that employers ought to be responsible for teaching them anyway,

(2) In addition to the requirements under subsection (1), the board of a school district or board of directors of a public school academy shall not award a high school diploma to a pupil unless the pupil has successfully completed during grades K to 12 at least 2 credits that are grade-appropriate in a language other than English or course work or other learning experiences that are substantially equivalent to 2 credits in a language other than English, based on guidelines developed by the department. For pupils who graduate from high school in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, or 2020 only, a pupil may partially or fully fulfill 1 credit of this requirement by completing a department-approved formal career and technical education program or curriculum or by completing visual or performing arts instruction that is in addition to the requirements under subsection (1)(a)(iv). 

*Michigan Department of Education (2007).  World Languages Standards and Benchmarks. p 5.

** American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (2012).  ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners.  Note that the link goes to the most recent version of the Performance Descriptors.  The main change has been to the level of detail of the descriptors, not in the scope of what a student should be able to do.

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