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EDUCATION Wrong premise with ‘customers’

It’s been obvious since 2019 that the handwriting was on the wall for New York’s Regents diploma.

The process to devise new graduation standards for the state’s high schools has been largely focused on finding a replacement for the Regents exams. Higher high school graduation rates the past two years with the Regents exams postponed hasn’t helped the case for those who want to keep the traditional batch of exit exams for the state’s high school students.

We have long argued in this space that not every child is geared for college. Some need to be directed into career and technical education programs — and there is no need for a Regents diploma for those students. However, a recent state-backed study of graduation requirements in several other states and a smattering of foreign countries did show the Regents exam has value in showing a student is ready for college, with a correlation between rigorous coursework in high school and higher grade-point averages, college completion rates and getting higher-paying jobs after graduation. So the Regents exams would seem to have a role for students on a college track.

But something Betty Rosa, state education commissioner and a former Board of Regents member, said during the Regents’ November meeting caught our ear. After Regent Catherine Collins made another plea for the usefulness of the Regents exams, Rosa responded that the Regents needs to keep in mind what students need for their future. We were on board until we heard this — “At the end of the day our job is to keep in mind what our students need for the future, hearing the voices of our constituents but most importantly hearing the voices of our students. Our students talked about financial literacy. Our students talked about what the Regents mean for them. … Keep in mind that this is about customer service. Our customers are the students.”

That may be one of the most myopic and frankly idiotic comments we’ve heard out of someone in a job with so much authority over the educational futures of our children.

Students are not the customer, particularly when it comes to education. Students are the product. It is the state’s job to come up with an educational system that helps as many of those students become a finished product ready to contribute to society.

Society, Ms. Rosa, is the customer here. Society needs citizens who can make informed decisions when they enter a voting booth or if they decide to run for public office. Families need educated people to raise the next generation. Businesses who count on state schools to deliver a capable workforce are a customer.

The longer this inexorable slog toward new graduation standards continues, the less certain we are that this Education Department or this Board of Regents can fix anything. Regents exams may not be the all-important indicator of a student’s college readiness, but let’s not lose focus on who the “customer” is in the first place.

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