Indiana’s education leaders are still chipping away at a massive redesign of Hoosier high school curriculum and diploma requirements, but one national expert has already lauded state officials for their work.
The praise came during Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting from Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd, a national education policy organization founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Levesque presented board members with an analysis of high school “rethinking” taking place in other states—many of which are also trying to better prepare graduates for careers in an ever-changing job market. She said during her presentation that Indiana’s ongoing planning—and financial backing from the state legislature—is already among the most advanced in the nation.
“There’s no other state that I know of that is having the conversations that you’re having right now that are this comprehensive,” Levesque told board of education members Wednesday. “You all are actually in the lead in these conversations.”
Vision for a new high school landscape
Republican legislators were adamant in the 2023 session to “reinvent” Hoosier high school curriculum as the state tries to reverse its dismal college-going and credentialing rates, stymie other academic impacts following the COVID-19 pandemic and help fill open jobs around the state.
Paramount to that plan was House Enrolled Act 1002, which put multiple state offices on the clock to put in motion statewide career-centered education and training programs that seek to graduate Hoosier students who are better prepared for the workforce.
At its core, the plan seeks to implement new high school diploma requirements that are more “flexible and relevant to students, employers, and communities,” as well as improving access to high-quality work-based learning opportunities and increasing the number of postsecondary credentials earned by students before they graduate from high school.
Much of that additionally includes an expansion of work-based learning in Indiana high schools, such as apprenticeships and internships. To help, lawmakers also established accounts for students in grades 10-12 to pay for career training outside their schools, intended to enable students to earn a post-secondary credential before leaving the K-12 system.
The Indiana Department of Education is now in the process of determining the courses and course sequences required for high school graduation, as well as developing criteria for high-quality work-based learning and credentials of value. An update on that work is expected before the SBOE this fall. Changes are expected to go into effect by the 2024-25 academic year.
A national perspective
“High school students and college graduates are finding themselves unprepared for the job market,” Levesque said. “And why is that? From a policy perspective, we would say many states tackle one or two education workforce pathway policies a year — and when they do it — many states kind of check the box. ‘We did it. We put $5 million into apprenticeship programs.’”
“But I think you all have been really thoughtful in recognizing is that learners take different journeys,” she continued. “Not every student that starts in K-12 goes to post secondary and goes straight into the workforce.”
State education data shows that while 76% of Hoosier high school graduates said they intend to go on to some form of higher learning, only 53% actually do.
Overall, 48.3% of Hoosiers between the ages of 25 and 65 have a postsecondary credential or high-value industry certification beyond high school. For years that number has remained stagnant and falls below Gov. Eric Holcomb’s goal to have 60% of Hoosiers with postsecondary education of some kind.
Levesque emphasized that states, including Indiana, should begin implementing high-quality pathways in middle school, and as students progress through high school, there are “intentional coursework and experiences that expose students to what is available after high school.”
Indiana has many adult learners, too, Levesque said. Many need to be re-skilled in order to advance their careers, and some might need new trades to switch careers altogether.
“How do you create a system that takes into account all these different educational journeys? High-quality pathways do not operate in silos. There are many different players that all have a role in creating these high-quality pathways for a state,” she said. “Surprisingly, not many states have that. You are already taking the lead in actually getting just a common set of definitions for different terms that you then are going to build and work toward.”
She also complimented the IDOE’s new GPS dashboard, which collects and presents data on enrollment, enlistment, employment and other metrics: “Not many states are even thinking about those post-high school measures.”
Levesque said new career scholarship accounts should also provide Hoosier students with “a variety of opportunities” to choose how to use the funds.
“You have four different agencies that are working towards implementing that and are actually contemplating how we give kids access to workplace opportunities or training that’s not provided in our traditional institutions,” she said. “Other states are going to be clamoring to learn from what you all are doing with career scholarship accounts.”
Recommendations for the future
Still, Levesque cautioned against policies that require a student “to back up” in order to change career paths, saying Indiana needs to strive for “complementary policies” and “very smooth transitions for learners,” including at the high school and collegiate levels.
She also recommended that state leaders closely examine which career prep paths are top priorities for Hoosiers entering the job field, mentioning cosmetology programs as examples of those that are typically not designed to best prepare most students for long-term career success.
“States produce a lot of kids who earn cosmetology certificates. And yet if you look at the demand, there’s no real demand, and it’s not necessarily a higher skill, higher wage opportunity,” she said. “If a state allows many, many opportunities for students and learners to pursue different courses and experiences, but the majority of them lead to dead ends, no demand, low-wage, minimum-wage opportunities, then that’s not a high-quality system.”
Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner agreed, and said Indiana’s education system should be preparing more students for career fields focused on hydrogen, microchips and cybersecurity — all growing, in-demand industries across the state.
“But our goal is to not shut down a bunch of programs,” Jenner said. “I think our shared goal also has to be to be really honest about what our data says, and in the end. For students, we just want you to be aware so that they can make informed decisions.”
Jenner asked how Indiana can stay in the lead, and what the state should work on most in the coming five years. Above all, Levesque said it’s “critical” that education officials do what they can to ensure the “longevity” their recommendations.
“You have legislative leaders that want to rethink and reimagine high school—which is also something that’s rare—and they’ve actually given you the ability and the authority to come up with different pathways and to make recommendations back to them so that they can actually support it with policy and support it with with funding,” Levesque said. “But what I hope doesn’t happen in Indiana is for all this work to be done, and then it it falls away with whoever is in the next administration. I think if you all—policymakers and the legislature—can make sure that these things continue and there isn’t a break at the handoff.”