BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
Meeting in Brief: The Regents will vote on graduation standards concerning a minimum passing score of 65 and the Statewide Plan for Higher Education. The Board will discuss reports on State Education Department staffing capacity and the implementation of the student data system. The Chancellor and the Commissioner will lead a Board discussion of the Department of the future in response to the Regents charge to the Commissioner in the performance agreement. The Committee on Quality will discuss a proposal to change the format of Regents meetings. The EMSC-VESID Committee will discuss recommendations of the Mathematics Standards Committee concerning the introduction on high school mathematics exams and course credits to be required for graduation. The Committees will review the draft 2006-07 budget recommendations and legislative priorities to ensure consistency with the Board’s policy priorities and strategic direction. The Board will appoint one new member of the Roosevelt Board of Education. The Regents will conduct their semi-annual review of the Commissioner in relation to the performance agreement. The Committee on Cultural Education will discuss five major issues as part of their trusteeship of the State cultural institutions. The Subcommittee on State Aid will discuss special education and early education funding. The Committee on Higher Education and Professional Practice will discuss amendments to regulations on accountancy.
The Future State Education Department
The Regents charge to the Commissioner in the performance agreement is to “prepare the State Education Department for the future” to implement policy effectively. In fact, the entire leadership group, including all Deputies and managers, are focused on this task.
This is an urgent matter. In a dynamic global economy, all nations recognize that effective education systems are a competitive edge. Our competitors pursue their own education reforms with intensity. We must execute our strategies with equal or greater intensity, and also effectively.
Education is about preparing citizens. The burdens of citizenship today can be very heavy, and public questions before us now are daunting. We need an education that lights the way in these times.
Education at its best enables all to realize their potential. The aim is to educate everyone to become competent, caring, productive adults of a free society. Consequently, the expectations are high for all educational institutions. In that context, the State Education Department must carry out its mission with wisdom, skill and dispatch.
The matter is urgent for other reasons. We anticipate rapid turnover in Department staff. The state, nation, and world are experiencing a generational shift with proportionally more older people and fewer younger ones, and that will lift priorities other than education to public attention. And we face the persistent achievement gap, which is a barrier to achieving all our goals.
We decided at the outset to involve many people in preparing the Department for the future. We talked to the entire Department about the anticipated staff turnover. With half the Department reaching retirement age within five years, no one can deny the need to prepare quickly. We are talking to our partners in education because we will need their engagement as our work with them changes. In those conversations we have invoked the global challenges because all educational institutions must rethink what they do and how they do it.
We envision a future State Education Department that is oriented toward the full scope of the University. We want to be a standard setter in every field we enter, a gap closer, problem solver, and talent convener. We envision a diverse staff possessing high skills that are continually renewed. We want to be deliberate in policy development, but fast in execution. We envision a strong monitor who acts on assessments of risk, and who is good about follow-through. We want to be effective partners with other organizations, and tightly connected with regional networks. Do we have the vision right?
We will describe for the Board ten major categories of our work and then outline how each will change. In all but a few of these, we already have projects in motion that will bring the changes to life. As the Board listens to these statements of projected changes, we will ask, “do they match Board intent?”
We have grounded our work on the future Department on Regents decisions on the strategic plan, the Regents priorities, and the 24-month policy calendar. While these are statements about the near term, they also define the first steps toward our future. Are we building squarely on the foundation?
Rather than move boxes around on organization charts, we have identified barriers, which we call “log jam” systems because the Deputies and I conclude that rapid improvements in these areas – human resources, information technology, and contract management systems – will enable rapid progress throughout the Department. We have also selected several other systems as “levers of change” because we think that redesign of these systems will drive change more generally in the Department within the context of the future we envision.
Finally, we are connecting the work on the future Department to the Board’s focus on the University of the State of New York. The future Department must embrace USNY, and pursue the aims of USNY as they emerge in the regional meetings leading to the November education summit.
The Chancellor and I will lead a Full Board discussion of what has been done to respond to the Regents charge and what will be done in the coming months. The Regents continuing role in this matter is to provide policy direction and decision. This discussion, therefore, is a check-in to ensure that the work is consistent with Board intent.
Policy Discussion on SED Staffing Capacity
The State Education Department is managing its way through a transition in staffing capacity. There has been a 44 percent turnover in staff since 1999 but the decline in total staff stands at 5 percent since 1997. The total number of filled positions has remained the same for the last three years. Transitions of this magnitude are challenging but we have appropriate strategies in place. For example, we have provided data to all Department staff through copies of a staffing report, and an “all hands” meeting last year. We have talked about the emerging Department of the future to many staff groups. We have professional development programs at all levels, and have made leadership development a visible priority.
In December 2004 the Regents discussed a report that described State Education Department staffing patterns and anticipated problems due to retirements over the next five years. A second report this month responds to Regents questions about new work taken on by the State Education Department. Every organization that intends to thrive, whether it is in government or the private sector, changes the work it does as conditions and demands change. To the extent we can, we have made these changes in our work deliberately.
As the staffing transition continues at the rate of about 300 departures a year, we have an obligation to reevaluate the skills needed before filling each vacancy. The deputy commissioners and Human Resources Director Gayle Bowden are thinking through that problem now in the context of preparing the Department for the future.
Policy Decision Graduation Standards
The EMSC-VESID Committee co-chairs propose a four-year phase-in of the requirement that students pass Regents exams at 65 or above, and an appeals process for students who score within three points of 65, provided that the students attempt the exams twice, maintain a 95 percent attendance, and meet other criteria. If adopted, this proposal will conclude the two-year pause in the move to 65 as a minimum Regents exam score, which the Board adopted in 2003. The proposed phase-in recognizes the rising high school achievement of recent years, and would provide sufficient time for school districts to add capacity to close an important aspect of the gap in student achievement.
More About Mathematics
When the Regents adopted the revised mathematics standards recommended by the Mathematics Standards Committee, the Board deferred consideration of other committee recommendations. We return to those recommendations this month. The Mathematics Standards Committee recommended creating three mathematics Regents exams, with one to be passed for a Regents diploma and all three for a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation. The committee also proposed the number of courses students must pass at each level. The Regents will begin discussion of these recommendations, with a decision anticipated in September. The State Education Department prepared a paper with responses to the recommendations, and three options for when the new exams would be given for the first time.
The timing of the exams merits particularly careful reflection. The Department paper defines the consequences of beginning in 2006-07, and in the two subsequent years. Crucial to the decision are: the time required to prepare exams of technical quality, time required under case law to enable students to prepare for the exams, and the time required for teachers to get ready. It would be helpful to focus on which group of children would be first affected by each of the three implementation dates. For example, a first test administration in 2008-2009 means that the 6th graders of 2005 will get the additional benefit of the instruction leading to the new exams.
Policy Decision on Statewide Plan for Higher Education
The Committee on Higher Education and Professional Practice will consider the Statewide Plan for Higher Education for adoption. The committee has reviewed drafts since September and the Board has listened to testimony in public hearings. The draft plan includes the plans of all four sectors of higher education, and responds to the Regents higher education priorities. When the Board adopts the plan, our attention will quickly shift to implementation. The Regents pending decisions on budget recommendations and legislative priorities for 2006 are early opportunities to bring the plan to life.
Student Record System
The Regents will discuss a report on the implementation of the student record system. In June 2004 the Regents discussed a schedule for implementing the student data system by using regional information centers, a unique student identifier, and an array of reports to support school and district operations and state policy making. We had an early look at the value added by collecting individual student data in January, when we saw patterns of student achievement data in sharp detail for the students who entered 9th grade in 2000. This month the Regents will discuss the status of this student record project. We now have the student identifier system, data currently in the regional information centers is being organized using the student identifier, and that process will be complete by December. The data we collect in August will be collected using the identifier system.
Health and Achievement
The EMSC-VESID Committee will discuss a report on the connections between certain health conditions and student achievement. The report presents information on asthma, diabetes, poor nutrition, and exposure to lead and mercury and concurrent indicators of low achievement in school. We have many programs that address these problems but the problems are severe and, in some cases, increasing in severity. The paper outlines additional potential strategies, including more intensive information sharing, more connections between education and health care programs, and potential budget recommendations.
Regents Policy Priorities and How to Address Them
In December, the Regents adopted ten policy priorities. Deputy commissioners and their colleagues prepared a five-page paper on each priority to suggest an approach to address them through the appropriate Regents committee and then the Full Board. The papers define the issues, important questions, interested parties, sources of information from multiple perspectives, and places to visit to see the policy problem and its potential resolution in action. These papers are ways to link Board decisions about which issues are most important to Board and Department actions to resolve those issues.
Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, becomes effective on July 1, 2005. The Department has proposed legislation and conforming amendments to State regulations, which will be before the EMSC-VESID Committee for discussion in June. Individualized education programs (IEPs), transition services, committee on special education member participation, and parental placement of students in nonpublic elementary and secondary schools are elements requiring Regents policy decisions. The Department has conducted seven public hearings and has met with constituent groups and parents on IDEA implementation and the proposed amendments. Information on the comments received will be shared at the meeting, and we will report the status of the federal regulations.
The Committee on Higher Education and Professional Practice will discuss proposed amendments in regulations for accountancy. The new provisions will define unprofessional conduct to include the imposition of any discipline, penalty or sanction on a New York licensed certified public accountant or registered public accounting firm for violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The regulations will also include independence standards for accountants or firms that audit publicly traded companies not registered with the SEC and require CPA's to report certain conduct or events critical to the ethical practice of their profession. The amendments will establish standards of unprofessional conduct that specify certain reportable events.
Regents Trusteeship of the State Library, Museum, and Archives
The Regents are trustees over three cultural institutions of national importance – the State Library, the State Museum, and the State Archives. To focus that trusteeship role, Deputy Commissioner Huxley will discuss with the Cultural Education Committee five major issues requiring Regents guidance. They concern implementing New Century Libraries, ensuring attention to the history of under-documented groups, renewing the State Museum exhibits, stewardship of the collections, and closing the performance gap through the use of cultural resources. These issues require careful thought in the context of preparing for the future legislative and budget cycles.
Identification of Persistently Dangerous Schools
Staff will update the EMSC-VESID Committee on the criteria that will be used to identify persistently dangerous schools. The criteria are consistent with federal and state legislation as well as guidance previously provided by members of the Board. In addition, the report will describe what the Department has done to improve the quality of the data and the use of a School Violence Index beginning with the 2003-04 school year data. Staff will also describe a Supportive Learning Environment Index that would provide information about conditions of school buildings that affect the learning process. We will seek comment from teachers, administrators and the public and report the results to the Board next spring.
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