The Hawaii State Board of Education on Tuesday postponed its final vote on whether to reduce the number of social studies requirements for high school graduates.
A recommendation from the Department of Education would eliminate the BOE Recognition diploma, reduce the number of credits required to graduate and increase the number of elective course opportunities for students. It would accomplish this by requiring only three social studies courses in the future, instead of the four currently required.
The board’s Student Achievement Committee in June voted to forward the department’s recommendation to the full board. If approved, the changes would be effective for the class of 2016 — next year’s freshmen.
The board’s final vote was scheduled this Tuesday to allow completion of a 45-day “consult and confer” period on the issue for the unions representing educators. One of the unions requested additional time, so the board deferred its vote on the graduation policy until September.
Meanwhile, a crowd of social studies advocates gathered in the Board of Education room Tuesday, rendering it standing-room-only. They submitted four hours worth of oral testimony opposing the change. More than 35 spoke — some of them twice, some out of turn. Others heckled and cheered throughout the ordeal, bookending each testimony with applause.
Among the speakers was Maya Soetoro-Ng, author, education advocate and sister of President Barack Obama.
After public testimony, the Department of Education shared a presentation responding to concerns and questions board expressed at their June meeting regarding the proposed policy.
The presentation shows that a survey of 197 Hawaii State Student Council students revealed half of them believe the social studies credit requirement should remain at four. The other half feel it should be reduced to three. Half also said they would take a fourth year of social studies if it were optional, and half said they wouldn’t. If the social studies requirement were changed to three credits, the top three alternative courses students said they would take were language, art and AP.
Student Achievement Committee Chairwoman Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui observed that the graduation policy should be considered within the context of the entire K-12 school system.
Toward that end, a group of educational specialists and Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe shared how the proposed requirements are designed to fit with new Common Core State Standards for curriculum that Hawaii adopted last year and is beginning to implement. Nozoe said the new standards are transforming the entire system, so that it is now more important to consider the quality of teachers and the rigor of courses rather than the actual number of courses students take.
Because students already get to choose which of 28 possible social studies courses they will take to fulfill the fourth credit requirement, Board of Education Chairman Don Horner said the decision really boils down to whether the board will allow students to choose also from among language, art, AP and other courses. Some may still opt for social studies, as evidenced by the student survey results.
Board member Nancy Budd disagreed, saying it sounds like the social studies requirement is critical not just for students going to college, but for those entering careers after high school.
“Nearly 100 percent of the testimony today passionately and articulately pointed out why it is an important subject matter and provides context for all the other learning that’s taking place in our schools,” said board member Nancy Budd. “We need to remember that it’s not just about getting into a college. I think we get off-track when we talk only about college requirements. I know there are a number of students who may opt out and may not end up going to college, it’s our responsibility to ensure they have that experience in the classroom.”
Some board members seem conflicted about the decision they may have to make next month.
“I’m still concerned about whether reduction from four to three (social studies credits) is a good idea,” said Brian DeLima. “I’ve given it some more thought but I’m still concerned about it.”
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