The Central New York Council for the Social Studies
April 21, 2012
To the Honorable Board of Regents
The Social Studies professionals of Central New York Council for the Social Studies have long enjoyed a collaborative and mutually respected relationship with the New York State Department of Education. Whether it be working on curriculum, designing Document-Based Questions, designing test questions or serving as final-eyes test reviewers, we have always valued our positive working relationship with the State Department of Education. However, in the last few years, this decades long relationship of productive and successful collaboration has begun to deteriorate. The reason for this deterioration is unclear, but what is clear is that the gradual distancing of the “in the trenches” teachers from the decision making that impacts our students is discouraging, disheartening, and problematic.
We are writing regarding what seem to be very counterproductive recommendations regarding the Global History and Geography Regents exams. Recommendation #1 in Ken Slentz’s P-12 Education Committee “Multiple Pathways to a New York State Diploma” cites the 2011 report entitled Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenges of Preparing Americans for the 21st Century. In particular, it cites the concern that we are failing to prepare our students for a future of economic success and not preparing them to compete globally. In an age where the “world is flat” and global business connections are a staple of our economy, cultural and historical understanding of a multitude of global groups becomes even more relevant. And yet the recommendations from the State Education Department are to allow students the option of not becoming knowledgeable in global topics. In light of the push for College and Career Readiness this option for students of New York state does not make sense.
In addition, on page 9 of Ken Slentz’s document it states that there is a goal that “upon entering the postsecondary pathway of their choice, our students are truly ready for the world of work and citizenship.” How will students become increasingly College and Career Ready in an increasingly globally connected world if the very course that requires global citizenship and knowledge becomes optional? We urge the decision makers to play very close and thoughtful attention to the data being used to drive the recommendations of SED. New York has prided itself on its academic rigor for many years when compared to other states. It would seem more than unfortunate if the data being used to persuade the Honorable Board of Regents to accept the recommendations regarding Global History and Geography were persuaded based on the less rigorous evidence and practices of other states.
Also, in the recommendations from the State Education Department it has been stated that there is a goal of increased rigor (on page 5 of Ken Slentz’s “Proposal to Create Multiple Pathways to a NYS Diploma”) for our students, and yet one of the reasons listed in a Wall Street Journal article is that the Global History and Geography Regents should be optional because it is too difficult and causes too many New York state students to not meet college graduation requirements. These two statements appear to be in direct opposition to one another. How is rigor increased by decreasing the docket of required assessment through the removal of a rigorous exam?
In addition, there is great concern regarding possible unintended consequences of Mr. Slentz’s recommendations might take the state down. For example, with the possible removal of the Global History and Geography examination as a required assessment there is no barrier to school districts reducing or even eliminating the course altogether because it is too challenging. And what will shape the replacement social studies courses? What will guarantee the rigor of new social studies courses? How will a possible increase in social studies courses that have no oversight from the state or other education groups lead to increased College and Career Readiness?
Overall, there is a grave concern that the State Education Department has altered course from what had been a positive, productive, open and collaborative relationship with the teachers of New York. The communication between the local “in the trenches” teachers and leaders is decreasing which leads to even graver concerns about how truly connected the decisions are to the students of New York.
We, the leadership of the Central New York Council for the Social Studies, representing hundreds of Social Studies K-12 educators from Central New York, hope this letter causes the Honorable members of the Board of Regents to consider very carefully and thoughtfully the long term impacts of SED’s recommendations to the students of New York and to the actual rigor of the education provided.
We wish the Honorable Board of Regents the best as it strives to make the best decisions possible in these times of change.
Tina Winkler, President of the Central New York Council for the Social Studies
Kate Gross, Vice-President for Programs of the Central New York Council for the Social Studies
Erica Martin, Vice-President for Membership of the Central New York Council for the Social Studies