THE importance of education has been highlighted once again through a federal effort to increase the number of immigrant visas. Among other things, the bipartisan Startup Act would increase the number of visas provided to highly skilled foreigners, especially those who studied math and science at U.S. universities.
The business community supports the measure to increase the pool of human capital so vital to success in the modern economy. This is one indication of how much they value employees with high-level math and science skills — and how our domestic education system is failing to produce those workers in sufficient numbers.
Yet even as the door of opportunity is opening for foreign-born students, some are trying to close it for Oklahoma children by seeking repeal of the most basic high school graduation standards.
A 2005 law that takes effect this year requires Oklahoma high school seniors to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams in Algebra I, English II, Algebra II, geometry, English III, biology or U.S. history. Those who can't pass four of the tests can't get a diploma.
The tests are designed to ensure graduates achieve basic competency in core subjects — in short, that a high school diploma means you have a high school education — yet some school administrators have vehemently sought elimination of the standards.
At the same time companies are seeking workers from abroad, these Oklahoma officials find it outrageous that a high school senior should have to master freshman math!
Oklahoma schools can and must do better. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 73 percent of eighth-graders in Oklahoma are below proficient in reading and 72 percent are below proficient in math.
The new standards provide incentive to close that gap before graduation. Failure to achieve basic educational competency rapidly diminishes a student's job options. Not every child will pursue a career in math or science, but every child should have the opportunity.
The purpose of a high school education is to provide students a foundation for career success, but the effort to replace graduation standards with a print-on-demand diploma undermines the entire rationale for a public education system.
Those who oppose graduation standards would turn an Oklahoma high school diploma into little more than a certificate of attendance; the negative consequences for students will be life long.
It's sad to see a child squander an inheritance. But it's tragic when adults encourage them to waste it. Sadly, some school administrators are encouraging Oklahoma students to do just that by shrugging off the importance of educational achievement.
The demand for skilled workers won't go away, but the demand for Oklahoma graduates could fade if our high school diploma becomes just a piece of paper.
Someone will get the high-paying jobs of the future. Shouldn't we want those employees to be Oklahoma graduates?