BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Meeting in Brief: To prepare for policy decisions in the next two months, the Regents will continue to discuss reports on middle grades and state aid. They will evaluate progress and a schedule of future work for the student record system. The Regents will have opportunities to reflect on new approaches to regulation in three areas: middle grades, special education, and school leadership. The Board will make three annual awards for significant contributions to the work of USNY: the Archives Awards, the Yavner Awards, and the McAuliffe Awards. Regents orientation sessions will continue in legislative advocacy, technology, and communications. Note: The Regents and the State Education Department are devising a 24-month policy decision and policy review agenda. That will become apparent in the November meeting. The Quality Committee will review a draft in October.
Closing the Gaps
The Regents Task Force on Closing the Gaps will discuss improving instructional practice. As I prepare for that discussion, I have two thoughts about how the work of the Task Force is taking hold in practice.
In September, we noticed schools with high rates of improvement in middle grades mathematics. Our question to superintendents in those school districts was, "What did you do?" The answers were immediate, specific, and suggestive of vigorous leadership from the top of these school systems. So that’s the first idea. We are starting to see improvement in middle school results and where we do, we hear about practical strategies applied locally. I saw the same energy in recent District Superintendents’ evaluations when I asked for evidence of how they helped schools in their regions improve results.
The second thought is that materials are now available – with more on the way through the EMSC web portal strategy – to place standards-based curriculum and instructional materials in the hands of teachers, students, and parents. Take a look at some examples on your computer.
The Regents Task Force on Closing the Gaps will meet for the final time in October and will refer the reports of the two advisory groups to the Regents Committee on Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education.
Middle Grades – Preparing for Improved Performance
The Regents have rich material before them on middle grades. The challenge is to make sense of it all to prepare the ground for better results. Deputy Commissioner Kadamus and his colleagues have defined seven elements of middle grades programs that work, and deduced five lessons from the regional discussions of last year. We have an analysis of middle grades regulations that includes questions and options, and a list of products including curriculum and instruction materials on the web and demonstration sites. We also have information about youth development. Where do we go from here?
Special Education Quality Assurance has Changed – and Provided an Example
Here is a VESID item that deserves the attention of all Regents because it models quality improvement that could be applied in other areas. Over recent years, our approach to assuring quality in special education has evolved from compliance with process to student results and program effectiveness.
Among the interesting features are these: Data drives State Education Department action. Our colleagues use 14 indicators to locate problems and to plan action. They do not treat all school districts alike, but rather use the data to apply a continuum of responses that are appropriate to the situation. In place of an earlier approach that depended mostly on state monitors we now involve many stakeholders, including parents. Finally, note the use of technology to make performance data on problems and opportunities widely available.
This new approach results in greater understanding and solutions that endure. Each of these features has wider application to the work of USNY.
State Aid Discussion Continues: Local Effort and Aid to Non-public Schools
The State Aid committee will continue the discussion leading to the critical decision in November on structure of the Regents recommendation to the Executive and Legislature on state aid.
I suggest that all Regents study the first 11 pages of the report on local effort. At issue here is the districts’ capacity to educate all students to the standards. The combination of state and local resources creates financial capacity. Of particular concern are school districts with low tax effort, (i.e. tax effort below the median), low per pupil spending, and low student achievement. The report quantifies these measures and the resulting lost tax levy, which diminishes capacity to educate children.
Included in the report are simple charts describing patterns of local tax effort, which are worth comparing to the charts of student achievement that Regents saw in the September meeting. The policy issue is how best to shape a state aid proposal that creates incentives for maintaining local effort as part of the strategy to boost student achievement.
What to do about non-public school aid is a second topic, and will be the subject of a joint meeting of the State Aid and EMSC committees. Staff will present some options for discussion but not decision at this meeting. The issue is complex for legal reasons and Regents will recall recent briefings about support for non-public schools in the context of a Supreme Court decision and also the Attorney General’s report. The topic is also complex for financial reasons. Public and non-public school leaders alike foresee difficult financial decisions in the year ahead, but from different perspectives. Regents will want to explore this with great care.
We continue to align the elements of new policy leading to new practice in preparing school leaders. Again, the Regents commitment to close the achievement gaps justifies this effort. Let’s take a quick inventory. We have engaged the profession and the public, identified the knowledge and skill required of leaders, and encouraged many regional partnerships between higher education and local leaders. With the help of the District Superintendents, local superintendents tapped nearly 2000 future leaders. I have seen them all in the regional meetings. With Kevin McGuire’s guidance and the participation of countless individuals, we produced answers to basic questions about what leadership education should look like, and we shared those answers widely. There have been many meetings with higher education.
Now we have a preliminary draft of the regulations. We are sending those drafts out for still more discussion without starting the regulatory clock now and we doing that for a reason: I have seen many examples of precisely what we hope to see in universities working in concert with local school leaders. There is no need to compel them to do what they already invented. These institutions will simply press on with what they began during our statewide discussions about leadership. They will be the early adopters.
Other colleges and universities will also want to take part, but may have waited for the details to fully engage. This opportunity to see the details of proposed regulation in draft will enable them to find their places of leadership in this new approach without the distraction of a rapid vote on regulations. We are almost there. Regents will discuss this in a joint meeting of the Higher Education and EMSC committees.
Student Achievement: Using the Data to Improve
Schools, regional school leaders, and the State Education Department have and use student achievement data to improve results. Nevertheless, we must expand that capacity quickly to support additional achievement gains and local and Regents policy decisions.
Here is what we have now. The State Education Department has six years of elementary and middle grades test and demographic data – nearly 3 million records. We also have one year of individual student records for all students in grades 9 through 12. The Regional Information Centers also collect student data for local use in 252 school districts. Regents will see a demonstration of the analysis that is possible now at the October meeting.
What we don’t have yet is the capacity to do longitudinal analysis of the performance of all students in New York. That leaves unanswered many important questions about how students perform from grade to grade. To take this next step we will create a unique student identifier and build upon the established RIC system. This will involve bringing more school districts into the RIC and, in some cases, linking other systems to this one.
At the October meeting Regents will see an account of the work already done to create a statewide system, and a schedule of products to be delivered over the next two years. In my opinion, we have a good foundation, particularly in some of the BOCES and the Regional Information Centers. The strategy of building of that work seems right. We have not made progress fast enough, however, and the Regents focus might be in two places: what analysis can we do right now, and what exactly will be done over the next 24 months to complete the system?
Stewardship of the Collections in Cultural Education
Goal 5 in our Strategic Plan says, "Resources under our care will be used or maintained in the public interest." The Regents and the State Education Department pursue this goal in all parts of Cultural Education by taking a strategic view of the State Archives, the State Museum, the State Library, and Public Broadcasting in their plans and budgets.
There is an operational dimension to this goal also. All Regents should read the brief report on our collections in cultural education, which will come before the Cultural Education Committee. Here is what it says: we expect the collections to grow, there are conservation issues we have addressed, but longer-term problems remain and these require Regents attention.
Ready for Work
We insist that all children become educated to the standards. Why? In concert with parents everywhere, we want children to grow up ready for citizenship, ready for work, and in every way competent, caring, productive, and responsible men and women. Our long-standing participation in workforce development with the Department of Labor and other agencies and employers speaks to the "ready to work" part of our purpose.
Gerard Pierce, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Wegmans Food, Inc serves with me on the State Workforce Investment Board along with many business and state agency leaders. We co-chair the Emerging Worker Sub-Committee. At the October meeting we will recount the progress of that group. Our mission is to "ensure that all New York’s youth, under age 21, are better prepared for employment." That mission statement goes on to endorse the Regents learning standards and commits to providing work skills and exposure to many career opportunities.
The Emerging Worker Sub-Committee has designed and awarded grants to expand business involvement and comprehensive youth programs. We have created a single point of contact for youth services in each of the 33 workforce investment areas, and created baseline data on business-education connections. In November we will pilot a regional dialog with business and education leaders.
Leadership Academy at the State Education Department
The first class of 26 has entered the new Leadership Academy at the State Education Department. The next class will begin mid-way through the year. This new opportunity has been a year in development and responds to our urgent need to find and prepare future leaders within the Department. The candidates face a rigorous curriculum. One part of that curriculum will include a set of challenging assignments defined by senior Department leaders. Regents will meet the Leadership Academy class in October.
Proposed Legislative Agenda
In November the Regents will adopt their proposed Legislative Agenda. A suggested draft that reflects recent and current Regents discussions will be before the Regents for discussion in October.
Financially Stressed School Districts
One of the sessions at the Regents Public Policy Conference on October 2 will consider the problem of financially stressed school districts. We will examine historical data, early warning signs, and potential ways to build local capacity to weather the challenge. Our aim is to better understand the financial problems that recur in some school districts and to create the policy framework for a program to help resolve the situation.
Using the Web to Build Capacity of Districts
Districts continue to struggle to find the best materials and practices in curriculum, instruction and assessment. One strategy is for the Department to provide more materials and guidance for the field in these areas. A more effective strategy is to provide access to a rich array of high quality information on standards, curriculum, instruction and assessment developed by experienced teachers in New York and elsewhere. Web-based technology now gives us a mechanism to deliver this information to all teachers and parents.
EMSC has just funded seven projects operated by BOCES, school districts, higher education institutions and public television stations to provide the core content of a Department-sponsored website called New York State Virtual Learning Space (VLS). A private sector web designer has also been hired to integrate content from the seven projects, as well as content already available through the Department, and to enable the site to link to NOVEL and other web-based initiatives.
Additional competitive funding for learning technology under No Child Left Behind will be available to districts this fall to expand the amount and quality of web-based curriculum materials and to support the professional development needed so teachers can use these materials to improve instruction. We will develop a request for proposals and will again encourage joint ventures among members of USNY.
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