CLOSUP report: Michigan principals encounter challenges in implementing new high school graduation requirements

June 14, 2010

As this year's graduating seniors begin a new chapter in their lives, a new University of Michigan report indicates many in next year's senior class should be concerned about not wearing a cap and gown.

Some seniors in the Class of 2011 might fail to meet new stricter graduation requirements through the Michigan Merit Curriculum, according to the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy.

The center, located in the U-M's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, released its report today highlighting the challenges that Michigan schools, especially in poor areas, face in implementing the rigorous course requirements associated with the MMC.

"The findings raise concern about the ability of disadvantaged schools to effectively implement the new mandates," said Brian Jacob, who directs CLOSUP.

Teachers and administrators are working to find creative ways to adapt to the new regime, he said.

As the first MMC cohort progresses through its senior year in 2010-2011, the state and district leaders will need to closely monitor student success rates, CLOSUP officials said.

In April 2006, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed into law the MMC. The curriculum requires all students in the graduating class of 2011 and beyond to obtain 17 credits in specific academic areas. Previously, the state required only that students take a state government or civics credit in order to graduate, which some legislators and educators felt the lenient mandate left many students ill-prepared for a college-level curriculum.

Michigan students would now be required to take four English courses, four math courses, three science courses, three social studies courses, one visual/performing arts course, one physical education course, and an "online learning experience."

Beginning with the class of 2016, students would also be required to complete two world languages courses. In all, the MMC would eventually require all students obtaining a high school diploma from the state of Michigan to complete 19 courses.

Michigan schools must offer more classes in all core subject areas and ensure that students pass even the most rigorous courses in order to obtain their diplomas, Jacob said. One way to achieve this objective would be to hire additional teachers to staff these new courses, and tutors to help students succeed in them. However, with the state's recent budget crises, school funding levels have either remained stagnant or decreased, he said.

Through an online survey, 238 high school principals across the state reported on the implementation of the Michigan Merit Curriculum. While the responding principals were slightly more likely to be from affluent schools than their peers who did not respond, respondents included principals representing a broad cross-section of Michigan high schools.

Following the survey, in-depth personal interviews with 13 school officials at the building, district and intermediate school district (ISD) levels were conducted. These officials were selected to represent different types of schools (urban, suburban, rural) and different perspectives on the curriculum (teachers, principals, superintendents, ISD-level staff).

Some of the findings were:


  • 86 percent of schools surveyed reported that more students were taking challenging courses as a result of the new state standards. Whether or not students are succeeding in these courses, however, remains to be seen.
  • 48 percent of schools surveyed reported that teachers were having some or extensive difficulty aligning their courses to state standards.
  • 55 percent of schools surveyed reported that students were poorly prepared, upon entering high school, to meet the demands of the new curriculum.
  • Schools surveyed also reported several common challenges in implementing the MMC, including lack of qualified teachers, lack of resources and less time for student electives.
  • In all cases, principals from higher poverty schools reported greater challenges in meeting the new requirements than their colleagues in more affluent schools.

The need to add courses and sections to cover higher enrollment in core subject areas prompted principals statewide to hire new teachers. Finding qualified teachers was sometimes a challenge, principals reported.

More than half of the principals surveyed (55 percent) indicated another challenge involved student preparation entering high school. These students did not have the prerequisite knowledge and skills to be immediately successful in the MMC without substantial remediation and support.

Given that the MMC placed much higher constraints on student schedules than previous curricula, many schools opted to alter their schedules to provide more opportunities for students to earn credits by expanding the number of courses they can complete in any given year.

Read the Report