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More Rigor Will Prepare W.Va.'s Students For 21st Century By Stan Hopkins

October 24, 2006

At few times in U.S. history has education been under greater public scrutiny than it is today. America has long been marveled for its innovation. But in todayís knowledge economy, what you know has become more important than where you live.  

The globalization phenomenon in the 21st Century has changed the way West Virginia and other states must think about educating their children. Scientific discoveries, sophisticated communication technologies and the rising economic influence of China, India and Eastern Europe over the last 30 years have produced a new world.  

During this time of rapid change, our educational system has been racing to keep pace with the new skills and knowledge that all students need to live in this new climate.  

We know that subjects and skills once thought optional are now essential to enter college or get a job. A high school diploma must evolve if it is to be a ticket to success in college and the workforce. About 80 percent of the fastest growing jobs will require some postsecondary education.  

The West Virginia Board of Education and state Superintendent Steve Paine recognize this and have taken great strides to strengthen the curriculum to ensure West Virginia children receive an education that meets the global demands of the 21st century.  

Our intent is that students will leave high school with skills for postsecondary education AND the workplace not OR the workplace. The needed skills are the same.  

The state Board of Educationís proposed update to Policy 2510 is up for approval in November. This policy, which regulates all education programs in the state, aims to provide each and every student with a deeper understanding of subject matter in a real world setting that prepares them for education beyond high school. It is not about requiring more tests and more homework.  

This policy was originally adopted in 1984 and was substantially revised in 1996 and numerous times since. The latest revision adds rigor and relevance and toughens the senior year by incorporating 21st century skills and recommendations of the High School Task Force.  

Policy 2510 is designed to provide a seamless transition from preschool to college and the workplace. It outlines a demanding curriculum for all students, with emphasis on rigorous core classes that are aligned with standards for 21st century content, learning skills and technology tools.  

Within this context, preschoolers will have daily opportunities for problem solving, critical thinking and active engagement in math, science, health, the arts, social studies and social and emotional development.  

In kindergarten through second grade, the focus is on building strong reading, English/language arts and math skills with a daily uninterrupted 90 minute reading block. Intermediate students shall have an hour of math and 90 minutes of reading and English/language arts daily.  

Middle school builds upon the results of early childhood education and transitions students into high school. It requires 80 minutes of reading and English/language arts and expects students planning to enter a professional pathway to take Algebra I in the eighth grade.  

By high school, students should have the 21st century intellectual, social/emotional, physical, and technological capacities needed to become successful adults. To graduate, they must take four credits of English, social studies and math; three of science; one each of physical education, health and the arts and two electives.  

Students in the professional pathway must take a fourth science credit and two credits of one foreign language and an additional elective. Students in the skilled pathway must take four additional credits in a focused concentration related to their postsecondary goals. It also is recommended that students take at least one course in technology applications, complete an online learning experience and a senior project.  

West Virginiaís new graduation requirements are based on the belief that high schools of the future must be updated to fulfill the promise of a world-class education for all students. Most of the requirements go into effect for the 2008-2009 school year.  

Research shows a remarkable correlation between the courses high school students take and their success after graduation. Students who take rigorous courses score higher on college entrance exams, have greater success in college, fare better in the workplace and earn more money whether or not they attend college.  

Policy 2510 further strengthens the senior year by preventing students from leaving school and hanging out at home once theyíve taken senior English. Instead, it encourages them to take college credit, Advanced Placement courses and participate in internships and other experiential learning opportunities.  

Such experiences must be structured and focused. It is not OK to just take time to work at McDonaldís. We can no longer allow any student to say, "Iíve worked hard for three years and deserve to take my senior year off."  

The ninth and 12th grades are the most important in a young personís education. They are the transition years, first from middle school to high school and then from high school to life. Every student should leave high school with something that allows them to make a living. This policy is meant to assist in achieving that end.  

A world-class education for the 21st century begins with a caring culture of education based on rigorous and relevant requirements. This is our challenge, but it is also our opportunity. Our students deserve nothing less than the best.  

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Hopkins is a state assistant superintendent of schools, overseeing the West Virginia Department of Educationís Division of Technical and Adult Education Services.

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