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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More than the three Rs

State gets earful on high school reforms

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— State Department of Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan continued his statewide listening tour on proposed high school reforms Monday, taking comments from teachers, students and parents at the Hill Regional Career High School.
Where state requirements previously mandated 20 credits, the new proposal recommends an additional four, including two in a foreign language, an additional science credit, and a new senior year independent study or internship. Students would be required to pass five state exams in Algebra I and II, chemistry, history and English. However, McQuillan said Monday the state is “looking for safety nets and alternatives” for students “if they persist in not being able to pass.”
Under the proposal, the Department of Education would develop optional curriculum for districts to follow in 11 “critical areas” included in the state’s core curriculum, including English, biology and civics.
The Board of Education has unanimously supported the changes, and McQuillan and Deputy Commissioner George Coleman are touring districts seeking input on the proposal.
They are expected to bring those comments back to Hartford, where the Board of Education and a committee charged with drafting the reforms will incorporate those recommendations. State Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said he expects legislation will be introduced in January 2009.
If approved by the General Assembly, the new requirements would apply to students graduating in 2015.
Student Toddchelle Young said Monday she’s interested in medicine, but that science reform must start as early as elementary school. Curriculum reform must also be backed by books and labs, she said.
With so much money gone into “beautifying” city schools, “There is so much more within the schools that needs focus, like technology. We need new labs, we need new books to be competitive,” she said.
Fellow student Ariane DaSilva urged the state to “boost math, boost sciences, because that’s what’s required of us in college,” rather than elective courses.
New Haven’s kindergarten-12 math supervisor Ken Mathews said he had “serious reservations about requiring Algebra II.”
“Although I do believe in a society where every individual knows Algebra II, I just don’t think it’s well planned enough right now,” he said.
New Haven school board member Frances Padilla asked the state to “flesh out” plans for middle school reform. Board member Ann Levett questioned what was being done to assure qualified teachers will be available to teach the proposed courses.
New Haven already requires at least 24 credits. The district has required two years of a world language for decades.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposed budget includes $100,000 for a feasibility study analyzing the reform’s financial burden on the state and local districts.
“This is a proposal that will have implications for spending,” McQuillan acknowledged Monday.
Yet McQuillan made what he called “an urgent statement about how much work we have to do as a state to address the learning achievement gaps we have,” claiming Connecticut has fallen from its place as the nation’s educational leader.
“Too many graduates are leaving high school and going onto community college or college, enrolling and having to take large numbers of remediate courses to be competitive or just to do the work in college,” he said.
“We are in a very important and critical turning point. We haven’t fallen off a cliff so far, but we’re falling at a rate I think will be disastrous in a few years,” he said.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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