Boces Security guard James Wood keeps watch at the Robert...

Boces Security guard James Wood keeps watch at the Robert E. Lupinskie Center for Curriculum, Instruction and Technology in Westbury. (Dec. 5, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Improving the college and career readiness of New York's high school graduates has been the primary goal of the Board of Regents for several years. It has been the central focus of Chancellor Meryl Tisch, Commissioner John B. King Jr. and his predecessor David Steiner since the leadership of the board changed in 2009.

Over the past two years, the road to improved college readiness has become rougher because of the awkward rollout of the Common Core standards and the new teacher-evaluation system. The initiatives have preoccupied the public, educators and our representatives in Albany, and have become polarizing.

At the same time, a less-noticed but equally important parallel effort to improve career readiness has been on the Regents' agenda. The Board of Regents recently approved an alternative route to high school graduation, a Career and Technical Education pathway. This will allow students across the state to use career and technical classes to meet state requirements for high school graduation. Students who complete a CTE sequence and pass a related industry-based assessment can substitute that test for one of two required Regents exams in social studies. This flexibility will enable more students to take advantage of outstanding CTE programs available through BOCES and school districts.

Fortunately, BOCES, a provider of CTE programs, has been preparing for this moment. Locally, all three Long Island BOCES have refined CTE offerings while working to ensure greater rigor and relevance. Programs have been tailored to meet regional job market needs and prepare students for higher education. Although it's a fact that's often overlooked, CTE also prepares students for higher education. In fact, high school students frequently earn college credits in CTE classes through cooperative arrangements with local colleges. Many CTE completers who must work their way through college use the job skills acquired in their programs to secure jobs to fund their education. Perhaps because this makes college more affordable, nearly 80 percent of local CTE completers continue their education.

Anticipating increased interest in CTE led BOCES to strengthen its structure. Last year, Eastern Suffolk BOCES reorganized around CTE and established the Eastern Long Island Academy of Applied Technology. The academy offers programs in three centers to about 1,700 students. New programs such as personal trainer, engineer and pharmacy technician stand alongside traditional culinary, cosmetology and automotive offerings.

Students enrolling in these classes experience a different type of learning. Unlike in a traditional academic setting, the approach is hands-on and applied, working under the direction of an expert, specialized instructor. This is the kind of experience students should have in school, regardless of college or career goals. The Board of Regents should be applauded for providing students with the opportunity to experience this approach to learning.

Gary D. Bixhorn, a former administrator in Long Island school districts and BOCES, is president of Suburban School Advisors Inc, which consults on education issues.

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