LEWISTON – A proposal to revamp the state’s requirements for a high school diploma – retooling the credit system and softening some standards – drew sharp criticism from the Lewiston School Committee Monday.

The state concept is too vague, liable to cost too much money and too closely resembles failed plans, committee members said.

“I’m hearing the same thing I heard in 1997,” member Ronella Paradis said. “What are we doing to our kids? What are we doing for our families?”

The proposal is part of a bill before the Maine Legislature that would restructure statewide graduation requirements, beginning with children entering high school in the fall of 2012.

Today, graduating seniors must have 13 total credits in English, math, science and social studies. They must have one credit each in physical education and fine arts and a half credit in health and wellness.

Overall, they need 24 to graduate.

The new proposal would keep the basic four studies: English, math, social studies and science. In three other areas: health and physical education, visual and performing arts and in world languages, the diploma would require exposure in each with credits earned in at least one, said Steve Clark, Lewiston High School’s director of student services.

And rather than basing credits on presence in the classroom, a variety of apprenticeships and programs would be structured to give kids the required instruction without the need for the standard 200 minutes of classroom time each week for 36 weeks, Clark said.

“I think this is very much a work in progress,” said Clark, who led the committee through a computer slideshow created by the state Department of Education.

Representatives from the state Department of Education will host a region-wide public meeting on the issue. It is scheduled for 4 to 5 p.m. Wednesday at Lewiston High School. More details are expected at that meeting.

“A lot of the devil is in the details,” Clark said.

Among the details that angered committee members was the state’s decision to make the arts less of a mandate and boost language skills.

“This is a recipe from the Department of Education for pablum,” said member James Handy, who said he was particularly upset by the change in the arts. As recently as 2006, the state’s learning results rules had made the arts mandatory for all graduates.

Several committee members were concerned by the change in foreign language instruction.

“We don’t have enough teachers who teach languages,” Paradis said.

Lewiston High School would have to double its language teachers to enroll all students, said Principal Gus LeBlanc. Currently, about 38 percent of students take a foreign language.

The cost would likely fall on local taxpayers, Superintendent Leon Levesque said.

He worries that much of the proposal would end up costing the city’s schools, he said.

However, he and LeBlanc agreed that one good piece of the proposal is its urging of greater cooperation between academic and vocational teachers and departments.

“There are some really good ideas in here,” LeBlanc said.

There are too many unanswered questions, he said.

LeBlanc asked state officials about the proposal’s use of an educational “experience” as a mandate.

“When I asked what it meant, nobody could tell me,” he said.


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