There is a public policy discussion happening right now in New York state that has broad implications for our children and economy. The Board of Regents is debating whether or not to expand the way students meet New York’s graduation requirements.
Currently, there is only one option, and only 73.4 percent of high school students are successful at taking and passing five Regents exams in order to obtain a high-school diploma after four years. That is a statewide average.
Graduation rates for the Big Five cities are as low as 47.4 percent. As a result, one-quarter to one-half of the state’s population is competing for jobs that require less than a high-school diploma at a time in which almost half of the jobs in New York state require more than a high-school diploma.
Engagement is key
Research has shown the key factor to student success, and graduation, is engagement — a close relationship between what a student is studying and its application to career goals/interests. Students who are not engaged are less likely to perform well in school, more likely to fail classes, and less likely to graduate. Needless to say, this has a negative effect on our economy and society as a whole.
The state Education Department has asked the Board of Regents to create three pathways to graduation: the Traditional Pathway (currently in use); the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Pathway; and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Pathway.
The additional paths contain the same amount of rigor and required courses as the traditional path, they merely substitute one of the five Regents exams for another Regents exam or SED-approved alternative assessment.
This request is reasonable and logical and will serve to keep the door open for more students to obtain a high-school diploma.
It is imperative that state education leaders act quickly and do everything in their power to help more students achieve fundamental educational success.
There are compelling arguments for CTE and STEM Pathways. A recent Harvard School of Education study, “Pathways to Prosperity: The Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century,” outlines changes that have occurred in the work force and the difficulties students face because they are unprepared to enter the current job market. It states: “Over the past third of a century, all of the net job growth in America has been generated by positions that require as least some post-secondary education.” The world has changed, but our method of preparing students for it has not.
Here in the greater Capital Region, we see the conundrum every day. Major industries have moved into our backyard, and despite the number of people unemployed or underemployed, businesses have a hard time finding qualified applicants for vacant positions. Employers echo what research tells us: There is a significant mismatch between the skill level of those who are unemployed and the skills needed by business and industry.
Expanding the ways in which students meet graduation requirements will help us educate more people in the areas of high demand and job growth: science, technology, engineering and math. It will also elevate the status of skilled tradespeople, 27 percent of whom earn more than the average person with a bachelor’s degree.
I wholeheartedly endorse the state Education Department’s proposal to expand the pathways for students to meet graduation requirements and achieve college and career readiness. Multiple pathways are not a set of tracks with different outcomes — they are essential to keeping more of our children in the game and fueling our regional economy and prosperity.
James P. Dexter is district superintendent of schools for Washington Saratoga Warren Hamilton Essex BOCES. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.