BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
Brief: The Regents agenda this month
covers the scope of the University of the State of New York (USNY). The Regents
will take up four items that appear on their 24-month policy calendar: school
leadership regulations, policy on school-family partnerships, graduation
standards, and the redesign of vocational rehabilitation. The Board will review
achievement data for children and adults with disabilities, results of the
4th/8th grade ELA exam, the draft statewide plan
for higher education, and the report of the Advisory Council on Libraries.
Superintendent Ronald Ross and board president Ed McCormick will report
on education in Roosevelt. The EMSC/VESID Committee will review 13
charter school renewals.
VESID’s “Designing Our Future”
We must envision and then create the State Education Department of the future – the very near future – to respond to a dynamic environment that places a greater demand than ever on educating all people to high standards. I will describe what we are doing during the oral part of the Commissioner’s report in May. Part of that future State Education Department is emerging in VESID’s “Designing Our Future” project.
VESID’s focus is on better outcomes, maximized resources, and improved quality of response to consumer and employer needs. VESID leaders have drawn an ever wider group of people into this work, including staff, partners and consumers. The evolving design seeks better access to services through both technology and community partnership. The design envisions greater collaboration with other parts of The University (USNY). Within VESID, we are redefining the workflow to eliminate a potential bottleneck in the old design that put a massive burden on counselors. Instead, the report recommends that counselors be supported by a team that will leverage the counselor’s unique contribution to good outcomes for VESID consumers.
This month’s report on results for individuals with disabilities is a sequel to the total cohort data the Regents discussed in January, as well as the School Report Card data discussed in March. And it is another opportunity to focus on practices that advance or impede student achievement. Regents will discuss evidence on the gaps in achievement among categories of school districts, differences in placement and classification rates, and college-going plans and results. As we did in January, we will use the results to encourage actions to improve achievement.
The Regents discussion on graduation standards continues with a decision anticipated in June. The revised proposal before the Board this month reflects changes requested by the committee in April. The proposal would phase in 65 as a graduation requirement over four years, with two exams required at 65 or above for the class entering 9th grade this September.
The data show that achieving the fifth Regents exam at 65 will require the greatest lift, and since that exam is likely to be mathematics for many students, a lot depends on how quickly and successfully schools implement the revised mathematics standards. Another important factor is expected progress in the 136 high schools with low graduation rates. The second gathering of those schools will occur this month.
The aim is simple to state, but hard to reach: everyone must graduate at a level defined by the standards. Achieving that in the short run depends on executing a few effective practices as described at the January Regents meeting. In the long run, however, this aim demands coordination from early childhood education through middle school and beyond.
As the Regents noted in April, the data we saw in January will change. We can expect the “not tested” proportion to diminish, but we can’t know how fast the proportion taking and passing the exams will grow. It’s prudent, therefore, to keep the pressure on with a date certain but allow enough time to meet the standards. We need to balance, as Michael Fullan says, the pressure and support.
136 High Schools
Deputy Commissioner Kadamus will report to the Regents on the first session with the 136 high schools we identified in January as schools with low graduation rates. The goal: higher graduation rates. The two-day session in March was intense and upbeat, with a tight focus on instruction, much of it presented by high schools like those in the group, except for their high graduation rates. The work will continue in May using New York City schools as the classroom.
Plans become real when they drive action. The Regents are scheduled to adopt the Statewide Plan for Higher Education in June, and that date coincides with decisions the Board must make about its 2006-07 budget recommendation. When elements of the plan appear in the budget, the plan becomes real. But first, we need a completed plan. The discussion this month will be about possible revisions in the plan as a result of public hearings. The staff report proposes several revisions.
Rather than summarize the revisions, let’s consider what comes next. It’s time to think about what we will do with the plan for higher education. The essential fact about the plan is that for the first time in more than a decade, it contains the ideas and commitments of all four sectors of higher education. The draft plan signifies a productive relationship between the higher education communities and the Regents and State Education Department. We must nurture that relationship. We must support higher education with resources, and also challenge higher education to focus its considerable strengths on the great problems facing New York. We should be vigorous about the support, the challenges, and the standards. But we should refrain from telling institutions how to do what they do.
Few can recall all 13 priorities in the plan, but fortunately they fall into five categories that do stick in mind: 1) maximize success for all students, 2) ensure a smooth transition from secondary to higher education, 3) meet New York’s needs through graduate programs and research, 4) ensure qualified professionals in every community, and 5) maintain balanced and flexible regulation. Let’s look for ways to do all of that.
It’s apparent that many parts of the University of the State of New York will have to collaborate to make the plan real. For example, student success includes graduation, but raising our 70 percent completion rate at the baccalaureate level depends on forthright exchanges of expectations between secondary and higher education leaders. I see few places where this exchange is as rich and continuous as it needs to be.
It has taken a lot of work to write the draft plan. But this is only the beginning. Now we have to work the plan. And our task will be to help all of USNY see the advantage in helping make that plan reality.
State aid to schools rose $848 million or 5.5 percent for 2005-06, but this did not buy a solution to the state aid problem. New York’s state aid structure doesn’t reflect the cost of success, respond to disparities in need, or encourage an appropriate local share. It is still needlessly complex, and resources are still insufficient to ensure financial accountability.
The Regents had a great foundation proposal last year, which merits support again. This year we will move at a faster pace, with a recommendation in September, or October at the latest, in view of the Court of Appeals decision on executive budgeting. Early childhood is a Regents priority, and state aid is a place to implement the concepts outlined in the Board’s policy paper on that topic. Therefore, committee discussions will explore potential adjustments in the state aid recommendation. We renewed a discussion with the field on special education last year. We found consensus on the need to change special education funding, but no agreement on how to change. The committee will take up that subject with three options outlined in the staff paper.
The Regents have always advocated accountability for both performance and finance. The proposal this year again includes ideas to strengthen financial management tools for districts and financial capacity in the State Education Department with additional staff in particular areas.
Regents Advisory Council on Libraries
The Regents Advisory Council on Libraries will give an annual report to the Regents. The Council’s advice is relevant to the Regents decision on budget and legislative recommendations for 2006-07.
Archives Partnership Trust
The Cultural Education Committee will consider a recommendation to transfer funds from the Cultural Education Account to support operations of the Archives Partnership Trust in 2006-07. The Trust was established by statute in 1992 to raise funds to support preservation and expanded access to the materials preserved in the New York State Archives. Consideration of the proposal is part of the Regents work leading to the 2006-07-budget recommendation.
Regents Policy on Parent Partnerships
The Regents adopted a policy on school parent partnerships in 1991. The Board committed to a review of this policy in their 24-Month Calendar. That review begins now, with a discussion in the EMSC-VESID committee. Staff recommends regional discussions guided by seven questions, a report to the Board in early 2006, and new policy adopted by the Regents in mid-2006, with implementation at the start of the school year in 2006.
Recent research confirms the common belief that effective parent engagement is associated with higher student achievement. However, much has changed since 1991. Many families with children in academic difficulty are themselves stressed by the changing economy. And two-parent households with children are a small proportion of all households today.
Among the questions are these: How do we define family-school partnerships and measure their success? What are the barriers to success? What should be Regents policy? What is the role of the State of New York and the University of the State of New York in this area? What budget support should the State provide?
Educational Leadership Certificates
Effective leadership is essential in improving student achievement. Discussions over the last five years and review of research culminated in new policy on the education of school leaders last year. Now the Regents turn to leadership certification. How should certificates for building leaders, superintendents, and business officials reflect Regents policy on leadership and the 2004 regulations on leadership preparation?
The Regents item summarizes current and proposed requirements for certificates for building, district, and district business leaders Among the proposed changes are a new leadership assessment, and possession of a master’s degree for the initial school building leader certificate. Transcript evaluation would no longer be a route to leadership certificates. That change underscores the requirement that all candidates complete a program that meets the 2004 Regents policy. We anticipate a Board decision in the fall of 2005.
Proposed Format for Regents Meetings
The Quality Committee surveyed Regents on their preferences about Board meetings and related issues, and based on the survey findings, the Chair offers a proposal for Board discussion and possible adoption in June.
The proposal provides for 10 meetings, including one regional meeting, with 30-35 days between each meeting. Meetings would be a day and a half in length, with a set schedule for Full Board and committees. The schedule would provide more Full Board time, more committee time, and one full-day retreat. Committee meetings would run concurrently.
The proposal would provide more time for Board discussion, more time to prepare for meetings, and greater efficiency in preparation due to a set format.
Report on Roosevelt School District
The 2004 results included in the Regents item on Roosevelt present a familiar and unsatisfactory picture. While elementary grade scores remain high, middle and high school results are unacceptable. These results are the baseline for new administration that has been in place for the nine months. We will hear from Superintendent Ronald Ross and from Board President Edward McCormick about what has been done and what is planned to improve student achievement.
The Superintendent and his team have acted in ways that seem likely to improve the fundamentals. Here are some of the changes reported by State Education Department colleagues who have observed the school district. Superintendent Ross has sought to improve instruction by building faculty capacity through professional development. He has added leadership and coaching in mathematics and English to strengthen practice in those parts of the curriculum. He has aligned the curriculum with the standards and professional development. The superintendent has refused to grant tenure where he found weak performance. He has built capacity to develop and use accurate performance data to support instruction. These actions sound appropriate. We should begin to see their effect in the 2005 results, and with greater force in 2006 and 2007.
The Regents will want to question Roosevelt leaders and also Department staff about the results and the actions to improve them.
A monthly publication of the State Education Department