The New York Board of Regents is considering a plan to alter graduation requirements for the state's high schools and is soliciting feedback for the idea from students, parents, educators and administrators. The plan would create two distinct graduation paths: one in career training and hands-on technical education for those students seeking to enter the workforce or a vocational training course, and a second which will allow students to focus on fields like technology, engineering, science and mathematics in advance of pursuing higher education in these majors and thereafter careers in those fields.
The changes would also involve making regents tests for Global History and Geography optional and would go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year.
Proposals for the changes have been in the works since 2010. Their aim is to better prepare American high school students to participate in the global economy in the 21st century.
A 2011 Harvard University report on American education found that students lag behind their international counterparts in possessing the skills needed for 21st century jobs.
Some of the regents took issue with the assumption that the study of history will not be vital for students going forward, with one member requesting that a history regents exam be added as a requirement for high school graduation. Currently, students are required to pass 5 exams with a grade of at least 85 in order to qualify for a regents diploma: English, mathematics, science, American history and government.
Regent James Tallon, who lives in Binghamton and New York City, said he received a flood of emails in recent days from teachers who don't want global history and geography to be optional.
"This isn't motivated by a concern about students not meeting the current standard," he said. "The new issue here really relates to the career and technical education for some students and for other students, a greater focus on science and math."
Since the world history and geography exam has the lowest passing rate of all regents tests, some expressed concern that the change has less to do with getting students better prepared and more to do with lowering educational standards that are currently going unmet.
Still, the possibilities from expanded access to tech programs is exciting administrators like the State Education Commissioner John King. He believes that if the regents new plan is adopted, it will give students in the mostly-urban school districts like NYC, Buffalo and Syracuse access to the career and educational resources previously available only to the richer suburban districts.
"They don't have the benefit of some of the high-quality programs that are available to kids in more affluent districts, and clearly that's a concern of the board, and we're going to continue to look at what sources of funding might be able to be used," he told reporters.