New Pathway to Graduation the Right Move
By Catalina R. Fortino
After considerable discussion, the Board of Regents has given preliminary approval to a dramatic new pathway to graduation for students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. At its October meeting, the Regents adopted new regulations allowing students to substitute a passing score on an approved CTE exam for one of the five Regents exams currently required for graduation. The Regents are expected to give their final approval to the changes at their January meeting.
This is a long overdue step in the right direction. It opens the door for all students to graduate by demonstrating they have a strong core academic background, as well as the knowledge, skills and CTE coursework to apply their interests to specific, technical jobs in their chosen fields.
Under the Regents’ plan, high school students would still take a balanced curriculum, including American history, global studies, science, math and English language arts. But, in what is known as the 4:1 option, students would also be able to earn a Regents’ diploma by completing required coursework, passing four Regents’ exams and succeeding on an approved CTE exam. Many of those who graduate using this new, alternative option will still go on to two- and four-year colleges.
New York’s CTE system is vibrant and varied. More than 180,000 students are enrolled in about 1,000 approved CTE programs in districts and BOCES across the state. They range from welding and automotive technology to programs that help students specialize in computer systems technology, criminal justice, animal science, audio and visual production and the culinary arts.
The 4:1 option was recommended by a New York State United Teachers report, Unlocking New Futures for New York’s High School Graduates. NYSUT’s support reflects a growing body of research about the importance of CTE education and the expertise and experience of CTE teachers across the state. While the Regents and state Education Department have been criticized for an over-reliance on testing and the flawed rollout of the Common Core, they deserve credit for listening to educators and providing flexibility.
The 4:1 option, however, is a first step. Education policymakers must also provide greater support to CTE program development. Discussions about career exploration and education pathways should begin before high school, and should be strategically focused on workforce needs and job growth so students can acquire skills with value in the labor market. In addition, the state must provide greater support to help districts recruit, certify and retain CTE teachers, and offer robust professional development to help educators keep their skills dynamic and current. And, elected leaders in Albany and Washington, D.C. must increase funding for CTE initiatives to ensure all students have access to quality programs.
Public education in New York is a vast and largely successful endeavor. Yet, great needs – and great challenges – remain, especially for students who live in poverty and who are most at risk of dropping out. Providing additional pathways to a high school diploma for all students, including those in CTE programs, is smart and long overdue. By adopting these new graduation requirements, the Regents have affirmed that CTE is a proven gateway to a successful career for thousands of New York students. #
Catalina R. Fortino is vice president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.