South Carolina state superintendent of education Dr. Mick Zais says the state should change state course requirements so high school students who know they're not going to a four-year college won't have to take classes they'll never use.
"Most kids, by the time they reach somewhere in the 9th grade, rightly or wrongly, have decided in their own mind if a four-year college is in their future," he says. "And if they've decided that that is not part of their life plan or in their future, much of what we teach in high school doesn't meet their needs."
For example, current state standards require students to take Algebra II and four years of English Language Arts, which usually includes British Literature and World Literature. For students with no plans to go to a four-year college, Dr. Zais says they should be able to take Personal Finance and Business Math instead of Algebra II, and Business Writing instead of British Lit.
"Those kids who are not, in their own mind, bound for a four-year college find much of what we teach in high school irrelevant to their life plans and their ambitions, and we should not be surprised if they become disengaged, disinterested and, in far too many cases, discipline problems," he says.
9th-grade student Kendall Warther agrees, saying, "I think if you know for sure, like if you have a family business or you know for sure you're not going to go to college, you shouldn't have to take the courses that you won't have to use in your life. You should take things that you can apply later on."
But her friend Rachel Weissman likes the courses that are required now. "They can still take classes which will help prepare them for college, which can also help prepare them for these (non-college) jobs as well," she says.
One argument from a lot of parents is that 9th graders, or even 10th-graders, are too young to make the decision that they're not going to a four-year college. What if they decide that and then change their minds but then don't have the college-prep courses they need?
Dr. Zais says, "I think there's plenty of time to make that up. If you decide that you want to go to college and haven't taken Algebra II, you know, last semester you can take Algebra II." Or, he says students could take it at a two-year college instead.
This is not a formal proposal yet. Dr. Zais says he just wants to start a discussion. But he says offering students more course options would improve the state's graduation rate.