All New York students must pass Regents exams in math, English, science and social studies to earn a diploma this year. Writing in City Journal, teacher Marc Epstein predicts a diploma drought.
Once only college-bound students attempted to earn a rigorous Regents diploma, he writes. Other students earned a general diploma; in some towns, schools offered a commercial diploma or vocational diploma to help graduates qualify for jobs. But that system was dropped when critics charged it directed minority students into the workforce rather than on to college.
The state’s new “one size fits all” diploma standard means that special-education students must pass the same English and history Regents as students attending Stuyvesant High. It also means that either the Regents exams have to be altered or the grading requirements adjusted to avoid a huge drop-off in passing scores.
Meryl Tisch, the new Regents chancellor, and David Steiner, the state commissioner of education, want to make the Regents tests more rigorous. The only sensible way to do that is to bring back the differential diploma, Epstein argues. That would require the political courage to “challenge the now-conventional bias in favor of routing all kids toward a college diploma of one kind or another.”
Update: Inside School Research reports on dueling studies on the effects of tracking students. While a Fordham study found that higher math scores in tracked middle schools, University of Colorado Education Professor Kevin Weiner says “the research doesn’t account for differences in resource levels, teacher quality, parents’ education levels, and other factors that might explain the higher numbers of top-scoring students in schools with multiple tracks.” His new study profiles three successful untracked schools.