Virginia to Change High School Graduation Requirements

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has signed legislation that will overhaul his state’s high school graduation requirements in an attempt to make high school more relevant to the working world and accommodate students who do not want to go to college.

The bill has not specified how it plans to adjust high school graduation requirements, but the changes will take place for students entering high school in the fall of 2018.

“Our high schools don’t work the way they should any more. They were built for the Industrial Revolution,” McAuliffe said, noting that the Industrial Age has ended. “We now live in a 21st-century economy. Our students deserve much better, and I know that our high schools can do so much more than they’ve done.”

Erica Yoon of The Virginian-Pilot writes that Virginia’s high school graduation requirements require students to take certain courses and pass a state exam, Standards of Learning (SOL). It does not provide students with an extensive background in technical education. The more skills-based classes Virginia high schools offer usually do not count towards graduation requirements.

A sponsor of the legislation, Senator John C. Miller, a Democrat representing Newport News, envisioned high school students taking core classes for their first two years of high school. Then, students who want to go to college will take courses that would best prepare them for post-secondary education. By contrast, students who want to go into the workforce could take specialized classes, participate in apprenticeships and internships, and receive certifications.

“Rather than sitting in an Algebra 3 class where they can’t see any relevance to what they want to do in the future, they will be able to take courses that best prepare them for their career choice,” Senator Miller said in February.

Senator Miller has since passed away, and the bill, in part, was signed in his honor. “They know how much this legislation means to him, and it is an important part of his legacy,” McAuliffe said. Miller’s widow, Sharon, and daughter, Jenny, attended the signing ceremony.

Journalists at The Richmond Times report that this legislation came about after the SOL Innovation Committee, comprised of a nonpartisan group of legislators and education leaders, issued recommendations for improving graduation requirements last year.

Additionally, Governor McAuliffe signed a second piece of legislation alongside the bill revamping graduation requirements. That bill calls for the Board of Education to provide three-year licenses for industry professionals to teach high school career and technical courses. The hope is that Virginia’s students will be exposed to specific career fields earlier so that they may determine which path best suites their aspirations and interests before they finish high school.

Willa Frej of the Huffington Post also notes that Governor McAuliffe announced his plan to add an additional $1 billion in funds to the overall state budget for K-12 education and higher education. Supporters of the state’s education changes feel that Virginia could become a national model for educators and policymakers looking to equip students at an earlier age with the skills and information needed to succeed in the globalized economy.