Wichita school board members will get their first look Monday at a proposal that would increase graduation requirements for the first time in more than 25 years. The plan calls for graduates, starting with the current sophomore class, to have at least one semester of career or technical education and one semester of financial literacy.
Jim Means, executive director of career and technical education, said the proposal answers a call from parents and the business community to expose more students to real-world, career-focused courses.
"We still teach woodworking, but tech-ed is not like when you and I were in school," Means said. "We're talking about business classes, finance, engineering, health services, early childhood education — coursework that has a career- minded focus, but with a wide range of careers."
Denise Wren, assistant superintendent for high schools, plans to introduce the plan to board members as part of her twice-yearly update on high school reform. The proposal would increase Wichita's graduation requirements from 22 to 23 credits.
Currently in Wichita, a diploma requires at least four units in language arts, three in social studies, three in math, three in science, one in physical education, one in fine arts and seven electives.
Financial literacy is an elective, usually offered through business, family and consumer science or social studies departments. Career and technical education spans a wide range of courses, including accounting, auto mechanics, health science, computer applications, drafting and food science.
Boi Tran, a junior at Northeast Magnet High School, participated in one such class Friday morning. She and her classmates in Stan Ens' biotechnology class learned how to use some common research tools during a DNA-mapping lab exercise.
"I love the hands-on things," said Tran, who hopes to pursue a career in nursing or pharmaceutical science. "When the teacher doesn't tell you the results, it makes it more surprising."
As she watched her lab experiment bubble and jotted observations, Tran said career-focused classes should be required in high school.
"It gives you some of what the real world will be like," she said.
Currently about two-thirds of Wichita students take some kind of career or technical education course before they graduate, Means said.
"The other 34 percent that haven't, that's the exciting part for me," he said. "The opportunity to engage those kids."
Wren said she doesn't expect the additional graduation requirements to cost the district more, though it may add up to one "teaching equivalent," or course, at each high school.
"We're on a shoestring budget here, and we know that," Wren said. "We just think this is a crucial part of preparing students for life after high school."