Teachers at the Indiana State Board of Education meeting May 8 took aim at the proposed new high school diplomas. As we’ve told you, the Indiana Department of Education presented two new diploma options, the Indiana GPS and the Indiana GPS Plus, which both drastically would change the current requirements we know now to graduate high school.

We already previewed for you some concerns we’ve heard about the diplomas in our last issue, and teachers and one student on Wednesday seemed to echo what we’ve already been hearing. Most of the teachers who spoke were either social studies or foreign language educators – two subject areas that would be trimmed down under the GPS diplomas.

Social studies requirements under the new diplomas would essentially be cut down to U.S. History and Government as the only two classes a student must take before leaving high school. Notably left off are world history and economics (though financial literacy is a new class requirement). Teachers were critical of this move, questioning how with all the world conflicts today in Israel and Ukraine, along with rising inflation and unemployment issues in the United States, how those two classes could be deleted from requirements. “I cannot believe in 2024 America, with all that’s going on in the world, we’re discussing ending world history as a graduation requirement. It’s mind-boggling,” remarks Kevin Cogdell, a history teacher at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne.

To clarify, world history and economics are not being cut altogether; they would remain options for students to pick when building their schedules. However, some teachers argue that removing the requirements will afford school districts room to discontinue those classes and slim down departments.

The foreign language and fine arts class requirements currently under the Core 40 Diploma with Honors, are also removed as required courses with both GPS diplomas. These classes would still be options, however, should students decide they need to take them.

Teachers point out that most colleges, including Purdue University and Indiana University, list world language credits as one of their first-year admissions standards. With that, the idea may be that a high school student who wants to go to college will be sure to add a foreign language to their schedule . . . but educators argue that overcomplicates the process, and could discourage more students from choosing to attend college.

Other concerns stemmed from the equity of the diploma paths, such as how smaller schools with less access to work-based learning may be at a disadvantage. Low-income students may not be afforded the same opportunities as well, or won’t have time to earn competencies through extracurricular activities, as is part of the new diploma requirements.

Some described the GPS Diploma as “lowering the bar” and the equivalent of giving a participation ribbon because the rigor is not the same as the Core 40. At the same time, educators argue the GPS Diploma Plus is almost too much for one student to handle, compared to the current honors diploma. Piper Craft, a junior at Borden Junior-Senior High School, labels the two different diplomas “polar opposites,” and she pities students after her who have to navigate them. “You’re essentially asking a freshman student, a student who is barely 15 years old, to decide the trajectory of their high school career by having them choose between what is arguably lesser than the equivalent of a Core 40 and what is the equivalent of a handful of academic honors diplomas stacked on top of each other,” Craft observes.

Secretary of Education Katie Jenner after the meeting acknowledges “we absolutely have some work ahead,” with the diplomas. More than 3,000 people have also sent feedback digitally. She notes she has had meetings several groups of stakeholders, from teachers to higher education leaders, about the diplomas. As to adding some of the suggested required courses in world history and foreign languages, she tells your favorite education newsletter, “I think we should totally have the discussion of what additional courses should be required and what courses should be flexible.”

Secretary Jenner also clarifies that students will not be asked to pick a graduation path in middle school and then forced to stick with it until they graduate, which has been another common concern heard from educators, parents, and others giving feedback. There will be flexibility.

SBOE has until the end of the year to submit redesigned diplomas. The new diplomas are in the first public comment period now until June. Then revisions will happen before a second public comment period starting in July. We expect to see quite a few changes to the proposed diploma paths based on the feedback we’ve heard over the last couple of months.