College & Workforce Readiness

Ind. Considers Mandatory College-Prep Curriculum

By David J. Hoff — October 26, 2004 3 min read
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A blue-ribbon panel is pushing Indiana universities to require applicants to complete the state’s college-preparatory curriculum in order to win admission and financial aid.

The unanimous vote this month by the influential Education Roundtable is the one of a series of steps toward making the so-called Core 40 course requirements the standard for a diploma in the Hoosier State, proponents of the idea say.

Suellen K. Reed

“Core 40 should be the curriculum everyone pursues,” said Suellen K. Reed, the state superintendent of schools. “We want to make sure that everyone understands how important this is.”

Indiana is among the first of what will likely be many states that raise the academic rigor and course requirements for a high school diploma, says one expert.

“That is going to be a big push over the next year,” said Keith Gayler, the associate director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank that tracks high school reform. “Indiana’s is one of the more comprehensive plans that I’ve seen.”

While states such as California require an ambitious array of coursework for entry into elite public universities, Indiana’s plan would require such preparation for admission to any state-funded university. Indiana would also encourage private colleges to recognize the Core 40 curriculum.

The Education Roundtable voted on Oct. 13 to recommend tying college admission and financial aid to the completion of the Core 40 for the graduating class of 2011. Ms. Reed and Gov. Joseph E. Kernan are co-chairs of the committee of policymakers and business leaders, which advises the state on policies ranging from preschool through higher education.

In August, the panel endorsed a proposal to make the Core 40 the standard high school curriculum.

Sixty-two percent of graduates now complete the Core 40 coursework. The curriculum requires students to complete four years of English, two years of algebra, and a year of upper-level mathematics, as well as three years each of science and social studies. It also requires electives in foreign languages, the arts, and technology.

The state board of education must approve the August resolution, and the boards of trustees that govern individual higher education institutions must endorse this month’s policy position on college admission and financial aid.

Ramping Up

Increasing the strength of the high school curriculum is vital for ensuring that high school graduates succeed in college and the job market, according to one member of the blue-ribbon group.

“Every kid who doesn’t do this is destined to have difficulty throughout his life or her life,” said Steve Ferguson, a member of both the Education Roundtable and the Indiana University board of trustees.

But school officials wonder if they will have the resources to make the changes.

For example, they say that increasing the number and rigor of math and science courses will test schools’ ability to hire teachers qualified to teach those subjects.

“It’s going to be very challenging,” said Frank A. Bush, the executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association. “We don’t believe that there’s going to be enough math and science teachers available.”

But Ms. Reed said the state would give schools enough time to find solutions. The high school graduation policy would go into effect with the class of 2009, and the college-admission rules two years later.

Indiana would need to use the transitional time wisely, Mr. Gayler of the Center on Education Policy said.

If students are expected to take tougher classes but don’t get the help they need, they might end up dropping out, he said.

During the transition, middle schools would need curricula that prepare all students for the Core 40 classes, and high school counselors will need to track students who might not be able to keep up, Mr. Gayler said. “It’s the right struggle to be working on,” he added, “but it’ll be tough.”

Mr. Bush of the state school boards’ group worries that the Core 40 curriculum may be too demanding for all students.

Students who are “late bloomers” will have difficulty earning admission to state schools if they opt out of the Core 40 curriculum in high school, he said.

Those students, Mr. Ferguson said, could enroll in community colleges. The policies would make them eligible for admission to state universities once they earned 12 credit hours in the two-year colleges.

“They’ll have plenty of options,” said Mr. Ferguson, whose is the chairman of the Cook Group, a medical-device manufacturer based in Bloomington, Ind.

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