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New York Regents Take a First Step Toward Reform

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The New York Board of Regents last month gave preliminary approval to a set of proposals that would produce significant changes in the state's education system--including an increase in graduation requirements in all major subjects, more frequent testing of students, a longer school year, and higher standards for teachers.

The Regents will hold 10 meetings across the state this fall to hear public comments on the measures and will take final action next February or March. The state could begin phasing in the wide-ranging changes as early the fall of 1984, officials said.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and the state legislature will have to approve any programs that require additional funding. One teachers' organization has estimated that the reforms could cost New York schools an additional $1 billion annually.

Commissioner of Education Gordon M. Ambach said he will have cost estimates for the package ready by next year. "I'm very optimistic about the legislature," he said. "I believe that what the legislature is looking for is a way to connect additional funds to program changes."

Mr. Ambach said the legislature showed a willingness to increase its role in education by increasing state aid to local districts by $1.2 billion over the last four years, despite fiscal problems.

Course Requirements

The plan, which would be phased in over the next 12 years, calls for students to take at least one more course in mathematics, science, and social studies; current policies require one year of mathematics, one year of science, and three years of social studies. Students seeking the Regents's honors diploma would be required to take additional courses in both mathematics and science.

All students also would be required for the first time to take courses in the arts, show proficiency in a foreign language, and demonstrate an ability to use computers in several applications.

Students would take more state-mandated examinations, including four new tests in social studies, two new tests in science, and one new test in a foreign language. Occupational-education students, for the first time, would take basic-competency tests in their fields. The school year would be extended from 180 to 190 days to make up for instructional time lost to testing.

The traditional K-12 school schedule would also change. Parents would have the option of enrolling their children in pre-kindergarten programs.

Students who show great aptitude in major academic subjects could begin their high-school sequence for those subjects by the 8th grade, which would enable them to take advanced courses as upperclassmen in high school.

Officials of education organizations in New York praised the goals of the measures but took exception to some provisions, particularly the foreign-language requirement. They also expressed fears that the schools might become "elitist," to the detriment of below-average pupils.

Clyde O. Eidens, president of the New York Council of School Superintendents, said the longer school year and resulting higher salaries would help districts attract better teachers, which he described as "the single most important problem of schools."

But Mr. Eidens and others warned that stiffer academic requirements would increase dropout rates. "We have to look at the unfinished agenda in vocational and cooperative education," said a spokesman for the New York State United Teachers (nysut), the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

And Stanley L. Raub, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said teachers do not have enough disciplinary authority to use class time more efficiently, one of the main goals of the new program.

Teacher Testing

Teachers would also be given a battery of new tests. New teachers would be required to pass competency examinations in the fields in which they plan to teach, and all teachers would undergo annual evaluations.

In addition to the 10 extra days for student testing, the teachers would be employed another 10 days for training and planning.

Elementary and junior-high schools would be required to follow a state curriculum, which now serves only as a guideline. Junior-high schools would be required to spend at least 115 minutes daily on English, social studies, and a foreign language, and another 115 minutes daily on mathematics, natural science, and technology.

A half-year course called "introduction to careers" would be added to the junior-high school curriculum.

nysut, which represents 95 percent of all elementary and secondary teachers and all public-college faculty members, estimates that implementing the reforms will cost more than $1 billion annually.

About $500,000 to $600,000 would be needed to pay the higher salaries that would result from the longer school year. Other funds would be required for inservice training, laboratory equipment and computers, language courses, and development of tests, according to nysut estimates.

Charles Santelli, director of research for nysut, said the Regents appear to have evaded the funding issue. He singled out the proposal that would require students to pass a foreign-language test by the end of the 9th grade.

"They're not mandating new courses, they're mandating that students pass an exam," he said. "If they're going to really staff [language classes], it's going to cost some money."

But Mr. Ambach placed special emphasis on the initiatives that do not require much extra money. Those initiatives include requiring students to do interdisciplinary projects in all grades, using class time more efficiently, revising the curriculum, and "mainstreaming" handicapped and remedial students into the regular academic programs.

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