High schoolers in Hawaii could face fewer social sciences requirements as soon as 2016, but not if their teachers have anything to say about it.

Nearly two dozen community members — many of them social sciences teachers from across the state, including Maui — implored the Board of Education Student Achievement Committee to reject a Department of Education recommendation to change graduation requirements for the class of 2018. The proposed changes would bring Hawaii into compliance with the national Common Core State Standards and, consequently, federal Race to the Top requirements.

The recommendation gets rid of the BOE Recognition diploma, reduces the number of credits required to graduate and increases the number of elective course opportunities for students. But to give students more time to take electives, the department has proposed requiring only three social studies courses in the future, instead of the four currently required.

The proposal comes on the heels of reports that students all over the nation are lagging in their understanding of U.S. history. Hawaii has once again received a ‘C’ for its U.S. history standards.

Despite nearly five hours of discussion and testimony, the committee voted to forward the department’s recommendation to the full board, with an amendment to implement it in 2016 — two years sooner than the department planned. The recommendation will now go to the teachers union for a 45-day “consult and confer” period before going on to the full board for a vote on Aug. 16.

Before the vote, Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said the Department of Education is working toughen all of its courses, including the three required social studies courses.

“The idea was to increase the rigor of our high school requirements, increase flexibility for students and offer them more opportunities to follow different paths in high school,” said Clayton Kaninau, acting director of department’s curriculum and instruction branch.

But the board’s student representative protested several aspects of the graduation recommendation, including what he said appears to be reduced rigor.

“I don’t think there is a rationale behind the change in social studies requirements,” said student representative Mark Dannog.

A battery of testimony revealed concern that reducing social studies requirements would lead to diminished support for social studies from principals who may not recognize its value.

“Math and science gave us atomic bombs, but the ethics and morals of how to properly use them are what students learn in social studies,” said one teacher from Wahiawa Middle School.

Principals aren’t sure the recommendation is a good idea, either.

A survey of about 30 high school principals over the weekend revealed that only 37 percent of them feel confident Hawaii should have fewer social sciences requirements, said Darrel Galera, principal of Moanalua High School.

But some, including the state’s directors of workforce development and career and technical education, spoke in support of the new requirements, which provide students with more opportunities to choose their own learning paths.

Dannog said the current system that allows students to pursue either a regular diploma or a recognition diploma gives them more flexibility than the department’s proposal.

General Learner Outcome number one is to create self-directed learners,” he pointed out.

Committee members seemed overwhelmed by the amount of testimony and the gravity of the decision they were asked to make, which could have longlasting implications for Hawaii’s 170,000 public school students.

“I’ve just been appointed to the Board of Education for three years, and you’re telling me this is one of the most significant decisions I’m going to make?” asked board member Jim Williams.

“As far as the graduates, yes,” replied Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe.

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