RALEIGH, N.C. — After three years of study and public debate, the State Board of Education on Thursday approved new requirements that would prepare all high school students in the state for college.
The new requirements involve an extra math class, Algebra II, and six electives of some combination of art, foreign language or vocational classes and are effective beginning with the class that will be freshmen in the fall of 2009, the students finishing seventh grade this month.
Students with severe disabilities are not affected by the changes.
The state's current three-track system puts high school students in line either to get a job, go to community college or go to a four-year university, depending on what students decide early in their freshman year of high school.
But state school board members said the tactic is short-sighted and outdated and that ultimately all students should have the curriculum needed to go to college.
"We realize that the 21st-century jobs and careers will require more education, more creativity and problem-solving," June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction, said. "We also know that our students will have to compete and collaborate with people around the world, and we want our students to be ready for the economy of the future and not the economy of the past."
To graduate, students will have to take four math units, four English units, three social studies units, three science units, one health and physical education class and six electives.
"Students drop out because they're not engaged," school board member Kathy Taft said. "They drop out because they don't feel like anybody cares about them. So, one of the things we want to do is make our curriculum more relevant, and we feel like we've done that today."
The new requirements, however, raised concern among the members of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which represents about 60,000 public school employees.
Although it is satisfied with the version of requirements passed by the board, Vice President Sheri Strickland said it is concerned about getting enough qualified teachers to teach the more challenging math courses.
They also want to make sure students who are having trouble with the new curriculum get help.
"The kids that are going to be the first round of students (that are going to be required to take the more rigorous courses) are going to be the ones who need a lot of support and, perhaps, remediation along the way to end up being successful," Strickland said.
Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said he would like to see the standards get even stronger in the years ahead, particularly with foreign languages.
"It's just a baby step, and we've only just started," Lee said.