Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio this week unveiled an ambitious plan that would require all high school students to take more rigorous courses in mathematics, science, and foreign languages to better prepare them for college and the work force.
In his final State of the State Address before the state legislature on Jan. 25, Mr. Taft, a Republican, proposed a new high school curriculum.
Under his plan, students would take one more year of math—or four total—including Algebra 2. Students would continue to take three years of science, though they would be required to take physics, chemistry, and biology.
The governor also wants each student to take at least two years of a foreign language. Now, foreign-language courses are optional.
The requirement for English would remain at four years, as would the required three years of social studies.
“Too few high school graduates are prepared for college or a well-paying job. The evidence is overwhelming that when it comes to our high school students, it’s not just about graduation. It’s about preparation,” said the governor, who is in the final year of his second term and is prevented by term limits from seeking another term.
The governor is rebounding from a scandal last year. He was indicted on four criminal misdemeanor counts for failing to report a series of golf outings, dinners, and other gifts. The governor was fined $4,000 and forced to apologize for his actions.
In this week’s speech, Mr. Taft emphasized the need for high school reform by pointing to the growing competition from countries like India and China that are producing large numbers of math and science graduates.
In Ohio, Mr. Taft said, only one in three high school graduates has the skills needed to succeed in an entry-level job or in college. He cited a recent survey that found 39 percent of high school graduates who went to college and 46 percent who went to work said they were not well prepared. And had they known what was ahead, those same respondents said they would have taken tougher courses in high school.
Mr. Taft added that all students should take an assessment in their junior year to find out if they are preparing adequately for life after high school.
Education observers dismissed the governor’s plans for high schools, pointing out that they are not backed by new spending in his proposed budget. Tom Mooney, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said class sizes are increasing and many districts are being forced to cut Advanced Placement and other college-preparatory courses. “In the real world we are going backwards,” he said.
Mr. Mooney pointed out that Gov. Taft has maintained education funding at almost flat levels over the past two years. In his two-year budget released last year, the governor proposed $6.8 billion for primary and secondary education in fiscal 2007, a 2.4 percent increase over fiscal 2006.
Mr. Mooney said that many districts have lost money because of inflation and, at some point, won’t be able to pay utility bills. Meanwhile, he pointed out that the governor has given property-tax breaks to businesses.
He added that while his union supports increasing academic standards for schools, the preparation for a rigorous high school curriculum needs to start sooner, with high-quality early-childhood programs and state-funded all-day kindergarten in every elementary school—issues, he said, the governor has ignored.
“We have not built foundations from preschool to high school to take these challenging courses, and the Taft administration bears the blame for that,” he said.
In his speech, the governor defended his record on school spending, arguing that state education aid has risen by $2.2 billion since 1999—an increase of 56 percent.