Mandatory Internet Courses for Michigan Grads?

Michigan lawmakers are considering a new rule requiring all high school students to take a course on the Internet. Alex Chadwick talks with Michigan Board of Education president Kathleen Straus about the new graduation requirement, which the state legislature will debate early next year.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

In Michigan, the State Board of Education has just passed a new requirement for high school students. In order to graduate, they're going to have to take one course online on computer. Kathleen Straus is president of the Michigan State Board of Education.

Ms. Straus, welcome to the program. And why have you enacted this requirement?

Ms. KATHLEEN STRAUS (President, Michigan State Board of Education): Well, thanks.

We know that most high school students certainly know how to use the computer when they download music and they have instant messaging and they do all of that.

CHADWICK: I'll bet the average 15-year-old could use a computer better than you or I could.

Ms. STRAUS: Oh, absolutely. Better than I could, that's for sure. We want them to know that they have to continue their studies throughout their lives, and everything is going to be changing rapidly. No longer will people be working for the same company for 30 years and 35 years as so many of their parents or grandparents did, and they have to be prepared to make changes. So they have to be able to use a computer not only for games and for fun, but for learning. And we want them to learn how to take a course on the computer.

CHADWICK: To learn some defined objective...

Ms. STRAUS: Right.

CHADWICK: ...in some way that is laid out by someone else.

Ms. STRAUS: Yes, like with a course in a school. And we're saying it can be either a credit or a non-credit course. And it might even be a half-a-semester course, but just to get the feel for actually studying and learning something new on the computer rather than just sort of hit-and-miss Internet surfing.

CHADWICK: Well, would it be Michigan's goal that one actually apply this to something that you really, really need to know. Say, would you take American history or English or algebra or something online?

Ms. STRAUS: You could. What we're think--a lot of what we were thinking--we included in our requirements two credits of world languages, and we thought we don't have enough teachers necessarily to teach world language. We might not have enough teachers to teach Chinese or Japanese, something like that, and that would be a good thing to teach on the Internet.

CHADWICK: The state Legislature still has to really pass this.

Ms. STRAUS: Right. The state Legislature really has to endorse what we did and...

CHADWICK: And the governor and all that. But still, Michigan will be the first state in the country to have this requirement if this all goes through.

Ms. STRAUS: We think so. We're not aware of other states doing this.

CHADWICK: Ms. Straus, did you and the Board of Education consider at all, or did anyone raise the argument, `Well, there will be some families where kids can't afford computers,' or do you think that things are now in such a state that really everyone does have a computer or access?

Ms. STRAUS: No, we know that some students--they don't have computers in their homes...

CHADWICK: Yeah.

Ms. STRAUS: ...but we do have--in the public libraries, there are computers, and there are libraries in the school which they could use. So we think that there will be computers available to everybody, even if they don't have it at home.

CHADWICK: I wonder if you think Michigan is particularly forward-thinking about this because of your experience with the automobile industry. So many people think, `Well, Michigan's economy is perennially in trouble 'cause it's tied to heavy manufacturing, and that's not what the future economy's going to be in this country.'

Ms. STRAUS: Well, that's right. That's why we wanted to have this state requirement for graduation and change the way people do business. We wanted to make a change. We know that we have to make a change. Things are not going to be the way they were, especially in Michigan. And so we were looking to the future and thinking, `Well, this is a way to--this might be the way to go.'

CHADWICK: Kathleen Straus is president of the Michigan State Board of Education, which this week passed a resolution saying that future high school graduates will have to take at least one course online.

Ms. Straus, thank you for speaking with us on DAY TO DAY.

Ms. STRAUS: Thank you.

CHADWICK: And DAY TO DAY continues. Stay with us. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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