The plan calls for less social
studies and PE; adds language,
arts or vocational studies
Subtract one year of social studies and half a year of physical education.
Add two years of fine arts, foreign language, or career and technical education.
Mix in a senior project and a personal academic plan in place of the half-credit guidance course.
That's the new formula for a Hawaii public high school graduate, as proposed by the Graduation Requirements Task Force, which has been working on the issue for two years.
The group, made up of high school principals, college admissions staff and others, presented their recommendations to the Board of Education last week. The proposal will be aired at a series of public meetings across the state next month and is subject to change before the board votes on it.
"We really need to hear from people," said board member Denise Matsumoto. "We're not taking this out like it's a done deal."
The most combustible part of the mix appears to be the cut to physical education, judging from the public protest last year when that idea was first floated and concerns expressed by several board members at the meeting. Students are currently required to complete one year of physical education in high school.
"I thought they already had enough outcry saying that PE was very important," said Denise Darval-Chang, a physical education and health teacher at Kailua High School, who was surprised to hear Friday that the proposed PE cut was still being considered.
"With current trends in obesity and the lack of trained physical education teachers in the elementary schools, we can't afford to cut the amount of physical activity in high school," she said. "Without your health, you've got nothing."
The task force proposes integrating the half-credit of health with the half-credit of physical education, in hopes of helping students choose healthy lifestyles that include regular physical activity. It also recommends incorporating exercise at a younger age.
"Physical education needs to be emphasized more in elementary school, where these lifelong habits are formed," said Tony Calabrese, an educational specialist who facilitated the task force.
The group considered graduation requirements from other states, national reports on academic conditions at U.S. high schools and advice from local experts in forming its conclusions. Dates have not yet been set for the public meetings.
Under the new plan, students would still be required to complete four years of English, three of mathematics and three of science. The number of electives would drop to five credits from six, chosen by the students.
There is no current requirement for foreign language, career and technical education, or fine arts (visual arts, music, drama and dance.) The new recipe calls for two years of one of those tracks. That change is supposed to unleash student creativity and better prepare students for today's interdependent, technology-driven world.
"Besides their basic skills, we want them to come out of school with an additional skill -- a skill in a foreign language, a skill in a technical field or a skill in fine arts," Calabrese said.
Task force member Gerald Suyama, principal of Pearl City High School, said each track is important to society.
"The world is so much smaller, and foreign language and culture plays a big role," he said. "The arts are going to be what save us as a society -- positive human creativity. Technology can go both ways."
The social studies requirement would shrink from four years to three years, which has also provoked some concern. It would mandate a half credit of Modern History of Hawaii and a half credit of Participation in a Democracy, along with the U.S. History and World Cultures courses now required.
Students would also have to complete a senior project, worth one credit, that applies their research and learning to real life, and could include a component of community service.
Calabrese said that research shows that students who take part in "service learning" emerge with a much better attitude toward civic responsibility.
"I look at the senior project as being the fourth social studies credit," said state Superintendent Pat Hamamoto. "We're asking the kids to take what they've learned and use those studies in a practical way."
In place of the current "guidance" class, a half-year course that centers on careers, students would have an individual academic plan and an adviser who stays with them throughout high school and helps them prepare for the year beyond graduation.
Such personalization is considered important in Hawaii's high schools, which are far larger than the national average.