Lawmakers consider curriculum alternatives

Increased support for vocational training courses could ease high school class requirements

LANSING — A proposal to lower Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements for vocational training students may boost manufacturing careers, according to some legislators. Students who successfully complete one year of vocational training would be able to avoid the mandatory algebra II credit, one credit of science, one credit of the arts and the online learning experience requirement. State Rep. Phil Potvin, R- Cadillac, is a sponsor of the bill which he says is a response to his local superintendents’ wishes. “Many of my constituents asked me to help support this and get it through the system. The fact of the matter is, some students are not college bound. Why would we force them to take classes they are not interested in or going to use in the future?” Potvin said. Roger Cole, superintendent of Morley Stanwood Community Schools, supports the proposal. “Some people may view this as supporting lower standards, but this is giving control back to the school districts,” Cole said. “Not every student is cut out for the college-prepatory schedule, and why would we want to stop them from getting the vocational skills they are interested in?” Legislators believe students are missing out on learning vocational skills being offered at schools. “I really feel that we need to make sure those who have an interest in a vocational skill have an opportunity to learn those skills without being penalized,” said Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, also a sponsor. An approved career program with math content — such as electronics, construction, welding, engineering or renewable energy would fulfill the requirements. “I think we’ve missed the boat somewhat with our high school students, where we’ve said each student has to be prepared for a university education,” Johnson said. The Mecosta Osceola Career Center has not seen a drop in enrollment since the MMC took place. “We have found ways to configure the curriculum into the programs that we offer,” said Steve Locke, principal. “For example, in the cosmetology program, students use a lot of science and we feel they meet enough core competencies to be given science credit toward their diploma.” Locke said it would be nice to no longer have the requirements, but the center has found many ways to collaborate with schools. “We now have a full-time math teacher here  in the career center to help students meet their requirements and not have to return back to their high school for a semester or trimester to finish those classes,” he said. To graduate, the MMC requires four credits in math, three in science, four in English language arts, three in social studies, one in physical education and health, one in performing and applied arts, and an online learning experience course. “When students make a mistake during high school and have to retake classes, their schedule is full of requirements versus things they are interested in,” Cole said. “Sometimes they never get the opportunity to take the vocational class.” Jon DeWys, president of DeWys Manufacturing in Marne, said, “Those (requirements) are all great things for college bound students.” DeWys Manufacturing, is a provider of precision sheet metal components, powder coatings, stampings and other products. The company brings in Boy Scouts each month to spark interest and teach basic manufacturing skills. DeWys said existing requirements give students less time to leave their high school building to attend a career tech center program that provides career-oriented training. “Universities sound prestigious, but not everyone is wired to go to a four-year university,” DeWys said, some students are “good with their hands: they’re very mechanical, they’re very good problem solvers, they can look at something and come up with a solution.” However, most students aren’t exposed to vocational training due to core curriculum requirements, leaving companies with a shrinking pool of skilled employees, DeWys said. MEPP reported 2 million manufacturing jobs are currently open nationally because employers can’t find workers with advanced skills. There are currently 2.7 million manufacturing workers over the age of 55, and their retirements will create an even higher demand for skilled workers over the next 10 years, it said. Students at Morley Stanwood Community School can take advantage of learning algebra while getting hands on vocational training. “Within our district, we use our crosswalks program to bridge the gap between the Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements and vocational training programs,” Cole said. “This allow students to be able to get the best of both worlds and see the real world application of what they are learning vocationally.” The Michigan Community College Association is providing a New Jobs Training Program, designed as an economic development project to allow community colleges to provide free training for employers that create new jobs or expand operations. For example, Autocam Corp. in Kentwood is working with Grand Rapids Community College to train workers in manufacturing fuel systems, steering systems, electric motors, braking systems and medical devices. “Once we have those people, we don’t want to lose them because they are skilled and trained in what we do,” said Jim Wojczynski, Autocam’s human resource manager. The bill was introduced by Reps. Johnson, McBroom, Pettalia, Lori, Goike, Outman, Bumstead, Graves, Foster, Glardon, Kivela, Daley, Kelly, Nesbitt, Leonard and Potvin and referred to the Committee on Education.  
Pioneer staff writer Lauren Gentile also contributed to this report.