Low expectations put Washington students behind as they graduate and enable the achievement gap, writes guest columnist Trish Millines Dziko. She urges the state to increase the 20-credit graduation requirement to 24 credits.

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WHEN I left Microsoft in 1996, I was driven to create the Technology Access Foundation to prepare students of color for success in today’s technology-driven world. As a result of our relentless pursuit of student achievement and our focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) starting as early as kindergarten, more students in our public schools are graduating from high school on time and are better-prepared to enter college.

The work I do is focused on the ground level, changing students’ lives in the classroom by putting policy in action. Originally, I thought I’d leave policy creation to the politicians. However, over a decade into this business, I’ve seen firsthand how significantly the discussions at the policy level impact success at the ground level.

Each year I’m exposed to more data that demonstrate our state education policies do not adequately prepare kids for success, and they disproportionately affect students of color.

Did you know our state’s low expectations for students require only two years of science and three years of math to graduate from high school? That is not enough to be adequately prepared for apprenticeships or two-year college — or eligible to even apply to a four-year college! This disparity in preparation disproportionately affects low-income students and students of color. This means we systemically enable the achievement gap and limit access to higher education and career pathways.

This is why I applaud the Washington State Board of Education’s leadership on college and work-ready graduation requirements, named CORE 24, and urge our elected leaders to prioritize the statewide implementation of a 24-credit high-school graduation requirement to ensure every public school graduate is ready to succeed in college and careers. Currently, the requirement is only 20 credits.

What does this mean for our kids? The state would work with school districts so that all students have the opportunity to take more math, science, world language, arts, and social studies courses to graduate with 24 credits.

Why now? The Quality Education Council (QEC) is meeting this fall to develop recommendations for the law’s implementation and is considering such issues as a meaningful high-school graduation requirement. The council was created by the Legislature as part of the education-reform bill passed during the 2009 legislative session.

I strongly hope the QEC and our elected officials rise to the challenge and adopt a 24-credit high-school graduation requirement that prepares all students for their future.

Washington’s graduation credit requirements were last changed in 1985. Since then, globalization and technology have dramatically changed our economy and expectations of high-school graduates. Current state requirements don’t formally prepare a student for anything. Only high-school students who have good counseling and advising, informed parents, or who are self-motivated and determined will know how to put together a program of study that will get them where they want to go.

We have an obligation to ensure all kids are ready to succeed in college and careers, not be shut out due to our failure to coordinate state policies. If we fail to develop our most precious resource — the talent and imagination of every young person — we can have little hope for our future prosperity.

Vashon Island resident Trish Millines Dziko is the co-founder of the Technology Access Foundation and a League of Education Voters Board Member.