Like the value of the dollar, the real worth of a high school diploma has been deflated, say many critics of public education in the United States.
California's schools are no exception, and the state Board of Education recently responded by drafting a set of ''model graduation requirements'' that could revolutionize secondary education here. All students, whether or not they plan to attend college, would have four years of English, three years of math, two years of a foreign language, two years of science, three years of social studies, one year of art, and a semester of computer study.
After a series of public hearings, the board will decide in June whether to recommend the requirements to local school districts. Compliance would be voluntary.
The standards proposal is accompanied by model course outlines. If applied to all students, as now recommended, it would be the most stringent public school diploma program in the nation.
In 1969 the California Legislature repealed statewide high school graduation requirements. Since then, each district has set its own standards, and few approach the proposed requirements.
Financially pressed in recent years, many school systems have gone from a six-period school day to five periods. Besides restoring the sixth period, observers point out, local school systems applying the standards would have to take other steps - such as hiring additional teachers - which neither the communities nor the state can afford at this time.
The Board of Education committee that proposed the new standards recommends that they be applied to pupils entering ninth grade in September 1984.