Regents graduation requirements, a central element of state educational reform, are "killing inner-city children," Buffalo Schools Superintendent James A. Williams said Wednesday evening.
He urged the public to lobby for a return to a longtime system in which students could earn either a Regents diploma or a less-rigorous local diploma. Currently, they are required to pass Regents exams in the core academic subjects.
That requirement is partly responsible for Buffalo's graduation rate of 46 percent in June 2007, the last year for which figures are available, Williams told the Board of Education.
"That [the Regents requirement] is killing inner-city children," he said. "It's killing them."
Williams said lobbying efforts to restore a non-Regents diploma track have failed.
"They're not listening to the superintendent," Williams said. "They're not listening to some of our board members. Parents, that's where we need help. Change the system."
Williams said that he supports academic rigor but that the current system shortchanges career and vocational education.
"We still need electricians, plumbers and drywallers," he said.
Samuel Radford III, a community activist, praised several of Buffalo's educational initiatives but said the graduation rate shows that massive improvement is needed.
The phase-in of the Regents requirements has been a cornerstone of State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills' reform effort for about a decade, despite efforts by critics early in Mills' tenure to maintain a non-Regents track.
Nationwide, just 50 percent of African-American males graduate and only 17 percent go on to college, according to Williams.
"That's not acceptable," he said. "It's worse than the crisis on Wall Street."
The average 2007 graduation rate for the state's big cities -- including Buffalo -- was 47.3 percent. Statewide, it was 68.6 percent.
In Erie and Niagara counties, only Buffalo and Lackawanna, at 67 percent, fell below the state average.