Education - My Personal Stake in the Proposed New Diploma Requirements

By michelle
Redesigning The Indiana Diploma: Coming to a School Near You with a photo collage of Michelle Higgs testifying at the State Board of Education public hearing, the opening slide "Rethinking High School: The Future of the Indiana Diploma" and the IDOE website image "Redesigning the Indiana Diploma" showing a classroom and apple in the background

[In less than 24 hours, I rearranged my schedule so I could attend the public hearing of the State Board of Education as they presented the first draft of their proposed high school graduation requirements and listened to public comments. As the parent of an incoming 7th grader who will be directly impacted by these decisions, I definitely had some questions and concerns.  Seeing several glaring gaps in infrastructure, with further demands on our most underfunded schools, and lack of acknowledgment for the unique needs of rural schools (e.g. transportation), I shared the following comment.]

To watch my full comment video:

Thank you, Board Members, for hearing our questions and concerns today. My name is Michelle Higgs. In my past I have served as PTA President and on several school and foundation boards, most notably serving on committee for WASC accreditation for the Los Angeles [County] High School for the Arts, the nation's premier public school and arts conservatory. I am currently a candidate for State Representative for House District 60. However, I am here today, speaking as a mother of a student entering 7th grade, for whom these proposed high school graduation requirements will directly impact. In other words, while I appreciate Indiana taking the lead on reimagining education, I am deeply concerned by the following statement, taken from the presentation “Rethinking High School: The Future of the Indiana Diploma - March 2024”:

Indiana is the first state in the nation to significantly redesign diplomas…which means there is no roadmap. This will not be perfect, but we must start somewhere. - Indiana State Board of Education

Does “somewhere” mean a complete overhaul beginning with my 7th grader? Is my son’s graduating class an experiment? How does Core 40 compare to the proposed requirement where Academic mastery is only 20% of the Flex 40 graduation requirement - is 20% Academic mastery sufficient enough to be competitive, when most employers still require a college degree (and automated HR systems use education as an initial filter criterion)? Also, will these new requirements apply to our charter and private schools? Or will this drive more Hoosiers to remove their students (and our tax dollars) from public schools to for-profit institutions offering “classic education”?

According to the same slide deck, students ages 14 and 15 will be required to choose 3 of 6 competencies to satisfy Work Ethic, one of which is, and I quote, “An External, paid job”. What infrastructure is in place to protect 14 and 15-year-olds from exploitation? For students who want to receive credit for a paid outside job - who will be in charge, the employer or the school? Who negotiates their pay? In a Right To Work state, what guarantees are afforded a student whose diploma requirement is tied to outside employment? What is the impact on this student 5, 10 or 15 years down the road - are we improving our children’s chances within emerging industries or merely supplying an experienced low-wage workforce? Especially for rural and low-income students, who is responsible for their transportation to these jobs?

For those planning for a military enlistment track, what requirements are there for national guard? Our national guard has been called to overseas duty. What protections are in place to prevent a 16 or 17 year-old from being called into active service? 

Lastly, our students must have flexibility and ownership over academic goals and career plans. This requires a significant commitment to their support. Part of the solution must be to introduce academic success advisors for middle and high school students. In college, most students have an undergraduate advisor who helps them chart their academic progress, supports them with resources, and helps them make informed decisions that allow for flexibility, even changing goals midway through. That same support must be available for Hoosier middle and high school students. Unless our state legislature is prepared to invest heavily in this endeavor, the cost burden to our school districts will disproportionately impact already underfunded schools, further risking their closure. 

It is no small undertaking to reimagine education for the 21st century. I applaud your desire to lead in this endeavor. I believe that as long as those closest to the class of 2030 and beyond (students, parents [like myself], teachers, counselors, and administrators) - as long as we remain at the center of this conversation, the correct roadmap will emerge. Thank you.


To watch the full Indiana School Board Meeting and public comments, please visit:

To learn more about about the proposed diploma requirements, visit

June 6th, 2024 - Indiana Public Broadcasting (WBOI):

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