February 2003
Report to the State Board of Regents
BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS


 

The Meeting in Brief: The Regents will prepare for future policy decisions on Middle Level Education, English Language Learners, and the 2004-2012 Higher Education Master Plan. They will decide on a technology strategy, and adopt regulations on public television funding and Individualized Education Plans. Regents will vote on the State Plan for Vocational Rehabilitation, and discuss advocacy for libraries and State aid. The Regents will continue discussions of adjustments to their 24-month policy calendar. The Regents will hear an update on the most recent comments from the field concerning the leadership initiative.

Learning English, Meeting the Standards

In the 24-month policy calendar, the Regents agreed to begin an intense review of policy affecting students who are learning English. This month we have the first in a series of reports with data, observable patterns, and policy issues.

Regents English exam performance increased for LEP/ELL students from the 1996 to the 1997 cohorts. The paper explains these gains, but notes also that even the 55 low pass remains a challenge.

The enrollment patterns are changing. The number of students arriving with interrupted or limited education is rising. The number of immigrant students in New York City is declining but the rest of the State reports an increase.

The loss of bilingual and ESL teachers is making the shortage even worse. However, our monitoring shows significantly better compliance with the Regents policy of intensive English instruction.

There will be a lot more data later in the winter, including the 1998 cohort, but there is more than enough here to add to the Regents discussion on the

55-65 policy, teacher recruitment and preparation, and closing the gaps in performance for students who are learning English.

A Framework for the Next State Plan for Higher Education

Higher education is a complex and productive contributor to New Yorkís well being. Every eight years the Regents have a responsibility under statute to renew the commitment to support and enhance the higher education systems and institutions by renewing the State Plan for Higher Education. Before the Regents is a proposed framework for the 2004-2012 Plan.

We have discussed the ideas reflected here with the leaders of all four sectors of higher education and with the Commissionerís Advisory Council on Higher Education. The priorities stated in the plan will respond to the discussions with these leaders and the many others who lead the institutions. We will recommend a statement of priorities in March. The Regents are aware of our extensive outreach to higher education leaders, and have themselves participated in many of these discussions.

When complete, the State Plan will embody the plans of the State University of New York, the City University of New York, individual independent colleges and universities and the proprietary colleges.

The four sector leaders and the members of the Commissionerís Advisory Council on Higher Education will discuss the implementation of the state plan periodically and this will inform Regents on progress in 2008.

Policy Statement on Middle Level Education

In December the Regents described what they wanted in a draft policy statement on middle level education. They said it should reflect the studentsí perspective as well as research, and balance academics and personal development. A draft is before the Regents for discussion, together with a summary of research and a schedule that allows interested groups and individuals to engage. This draft will change to reflect the discussion. Many other groups have prepared thoughtful papers, and the Regents will want to study those materials also.

Regents policy will guide local action, but the process of decision will be almost as important, because it will allow everyone to learn how better to educate children in middle schools.

Letís think about our situation. We are not succeeding with many middle school students now, yet we have been more specific about what must occur in middle grades than anywhere else in the educational system. We know we must change, but often cannot get beyond discussions of regulations or which grades to group together. Change of any kind unsettles people, and we will respect their perspectives. We will certainly hear diverse opinions about this policy. Thatís the way an open process works.

Not all of the decisions about this matter are in the future. The Regents have already made some decisions: focus on the children and what they need. Read and use the research before we decide policy. Involve everyone, so that once the Board decides, implementation can begin quickly. Use the data. The current situation cannot continue given what we know. These are, in fact, implementation decisions already made by the Regents, and this framework sets the stage for the details ahead.

A good way to prepare to support Regents deliberation is to spend time in middle school classrooms, watching teachers, listening to students, and attending to the experience of local leaders in schools and support services. The voices of those who do that will probably be among the most persuasive in this debate.

Regents Strategy on Technology

In the 24-month policy calendar, we agreed to define a technology strategy. The Regents included this task in my annual performance agreement with an expected completion date of February. In December, David Walsh discussed our draft policy statement on technology with the Full Board in partial fulfillment of that commitment. This month the Regents will decide the matter.

Why do we need a technology strategy? Why not just get to the details? Plans and actions in this area are expensive and risky under the best of circumstances. Actions in the absence of clear strategy and common expectations must fail. Regents decision will be the foundation for the work ahead.

The draft strategy is short, as it should be. It states four strategic objectives. Are they the right ones? The draft uses the six goals of our strategic plan as the basis for statements of desired results from technology. Does the Board concur with these statements? The draft makes five assumptions about technology, and a number of statements about the State Education Departmentís role. Did we get it right? Finally, there are some elements that we think are beyond our control. Are those correct? I recommend that the Regents adopt the draft, with whatever additions seems appropriate to them.

Advocating for Libraries

There are few audiences where one cannot find good reason to talk, however briefly, about the Regents New Century Libraries proposal. In the last month the idea arose naturally in talks in a middle school, a teacher recruiting forum, routine school visits, a chance meeting with a legislator, the district superintendentís monthly meeting -- not to mention several discussions with librarians. Just as everyone needs the 30-second teacher recruiting message handy at all times, we must be ready to promote libraries.

We have major opportunities to talk with library leaders this month in Buffalo and later on Long Island. In recent weeks, Deputy Commissioner Jim Kadamus, Deputy Commissioner Carole Huxley, and State Librarian Janet Welch and I have listened to library system directors and school library directors. In each encounter, we hear more examples of local and regional advocacy, and fresh evidence of commitment.

These discussions also remind us that the need is urgent. While some parts of the educational family prospered in recent good times, libraries emphatically did not. The insatiable public demand for books, periodicals, films, maps, data and information in all forms requires more than individual libraries. We must have library systems, too. We have them now, but without resources soon, New York will lose a critical set of educational assets.

Advocating for State Aid

We are preparing for joint legislative hearings on State aid on February 25 but the advocacy has already begun. The Regents temporary task force on State aid advocacy, co-chaired by Regent James Tallon and Vice Chancellor Adelaide Sanford, met in January and will outline the Regents advocacy strategy.

We have also been talking to school leaders about how to describe the plight of school districts caught between uncontrollable cost increases, State caps on reserves, and contingency budget limits. I have told superintendents and school board members that the campaign will be long and difficult, and that the Regents expect everyone to be in there fighting along with them until the end.

Call to Teaching Forums

The "Call to Teaching" series continued with a day in Yonkers on January 23. We talked first with regional leaders, then the media, and finally with a large audience of teacher candidates and currently serving teachers. Two local radio stations broadcast a short version of the recruiting messages throughout the day.

The Yonkers meeting was notable for the intensity and scope of the partnership between schools and higher education institutions. This is a strategic advantage to any community trying to find and keep able teachers, and a credit to the local leaders who built the relationships.

Here are some of the things we heard:

Our next Call to Teaching forum will be in April in New York City.

Public Television - Funding

In March the Regents will decide whether to amend regulations related to funding the nine public television stations. The proposal before the Regents for discussion this month would modify the allocation formula to allow greater predictability within available funding, and also remove obsolete language.

State Plan for Vocational Rehabilitation

Regents will vote on the State Plan for Vocational Rehabilitation and Supported Employment Services this month. An important addition concerns order of selection, in case that becomes unavoidable.

Revised IEP Regulations

The Regents will consider emergency regulations concerning individualized education programs. The revisions define "other service provider," and enable paraprofessionals to examine students IEPs. There has been extensive discussion with interested parties.

Federal Update

The Presidentís proposal for a fiscal year 2003 education increase of 2.8 percent is still being debated and amended in the Congress. We expect a turbulent conference committee fight and continuing resolutions at 2002 levels remain a possibility. The President has begun to indicate a few details of his 2004 proposal, including a $1 billion increase in Title 1.The reauthorization bills have not been discussed to any significant degree.

The World Trade Center:  Rescue Recovery Response

The second phase of the State Museumís World Trade Center exhibitions opens on February 1. This new exhibit tells the story of the extraordinary recovery effort at Fresh Kills. The State Museum will do this through artifacts, photographs, a FBI video about the difficult work at Fresh Kills, and other audio and video recordings.


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