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Balancing act for high school career-tech studies

Dr. John B. King, Jr., State education commissioner,

Dr. John B. King, Jr., State education commissioner, speaks at an event at Hofstra University. (Feb. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

The State Board of Regents on Monday grappled with how to offer more options for earning a high school diploma without pitting studies of the Stone Age against construction careers.

The board considered a proposal that would allow students to substitute a career and technical education test for the global studies Regents exam in order to graduate.

The global studies curriculum covers history, geography and civics from early civilization to Bill Clinton's presidency. The exam tests two years of material and has among the lowest passage rates among the five required tests.

Education Commissioner John King Jr. said the state isn't moving away from rigor but wants to encourage more options for graduation. He said the state wants to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to graduation while encouraging school districts to invest in career-tech programs.

The Obama administration has beat the drum on improving career-technical programs as a way to boost the economy. On Monday, the federal Department of Education announced proposed reforms to funding for career-tech programs.

In New York, education leaders have struggled with how to get school districts to invest in career-tech programs in the face of tight budgets.

"The reality is that districts are making very discriminating decisions about how they spend any additional funding beyond what's mandated," said Charlene Jordan, assistant superintendent for educational services at Rockland BOCES.

Making career-tech programs an option for earning a Regents diploma is a way to underline the importance of the program.

"If districts don't believe that CTE can be a pathway to graduation, they see it as in competition with helping students reach the five requirements," King said.

In the discussion, the Regents generally supported enhancing career-tech programs and agreed that graduation requirements should be more flexible. But several Regents questioned compromising global studies.

Regent James Tallon Jr. said that more than 100 global studies teachers during the weekend wrote urging the board not to make the test optional.

"Not having a mandatory exam after two years would send almost a subliminal message that this is not an important class," said Amy Rosenthal, who teaches global studies at Tappan Zee High School in Orangeburg. "Taking that exam away as a mandatory exam is not recognizing ... how important an understanding of global history is for you to be successful in the 21st century."

King stressed that students still would be expected to take global studies as a graduation credit. The proposal eliminates passing the exam with a 65 or higher.

An obviously frustrated Chancellor Merryl Tisch argued that some compromise must be reached because the Regents have been debating graduation changes since October 2010.

"If we don't address what urban districts across this state have been asking us to do for the past five years, which is to help them invigorate CTE as a real pathway to graduation, I think that New York State will be diminished competitively in a global environment," Tisch said.

Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES Superintendent James Langlois said that the Regents proposal would encourage districts to expand access and offerings in career-tech studies.

The board decided to gather public input on the proposal.

Tisch said the department also will explore questions about the lower passage rate on the global studies exam, which tests two years of course work, and whether to modify the approach.

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