24-credit bill will prepare students for college

I am a high school English teacher, and I love my job.

I love seeing the light go on in a student’s eyes when they get a concept. I love that high school is a place where the mind “wakes up” and ideas take shape. Teaching is a way for me to be an active member of my community and help students discover and develop the gifts they have to offer.

It’s a challenging job, one I realize I cannot accomplish alone.

Many Washington students graduate from high school without the academic and personal preparedness to contribute to their communities or succeed in life.

Only six out of 10 graduating seniors are considered “qualified applicants” by employers for jobs that require a high school diploma. And just four in 10 graduating seniors meet the basic requirements for admission into one of our four-year public universities.

I recently joined the staff at Lincoln High School, where my colleagues work tirelessly to improve these outcomes for Tacoma students.

One way we are working to increase post-secondary preparedness is to increase offerings and enrollment into our Advanced Placement courses. In just five years, we’ve increased the number of tests administered from 30 to 800, thanks to support from our school leaders, district administration and community donors who help cover exam fees.

Another way we are developing college- and career-ready young people is through college prep programs such as The Lincoln Center, College Bound and AVID. Each of these programs enrolls students in rigorous courses that require them to develop strong academic skills and equip them with grit, curiosity and perseverance – skills that are critical in today’s world.

But it will take more than school, district and community leadership to ensure all our students graduate college and career ready. State leaders must also step up.

In Olympia, policy leaders have been working since 2006 to increase the rigor of our state’s high school diploma. This year’s graduating class must have one more math credit – three total – to graduate. Additional requirements go into effect in 2016.

Senate Bill 6552, under consideration this session, will update our state’s diploma by adding a lab science and increasing the number of required credits to graduate from 20 to 24, beginning with the graduating class of 2019. This is an important fix supported by educators, parents and community groups across the state who comprise the Excellent Schools Now Coalition.

We all know money for education is scarce, requiring schools to scramble to meet the growing needs of our children and stretching already limited resources. Thankfully, funding appropriated last year will be used to support the implementation of the 24 credit meaningful high school diploma.

Together, these measures will work to ensure all Tacoma students – regardless of their social or economic status – graduate with a meaningful high school diploma that prepares them to contribute to their community, graduate college and be career ready, and set them on a trajectory toward success.