April 2006
Report to the State Board of Regents
BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS


 

The Meeting in Brief:  The Regents will convene in Syracuse this month as part of their preparation to strengthen policy about high school. Their focus will be on improving high school graduation. The Board will visit four high schools and some of their feeder schools.  During these visits they will meet representatives from other USNY institutions that are partners in these schools. After the school visits, the Regents will convene a Syracuse version of a USNY summit to share what they have learned and discuss local plans to improve high school graduation rates. On the second day, the Regents will have a two-hour discussion about high school and beyond with students and their parents.  The Regents will discuss, and possibly adopt their proposed 24-month policy calendar.

 

High Schools Graduation Rates Can Improve, Must Improve. Thatís Only the Beginning.

 

      The Regents administered a catalytic shock to the system by highlighting the facts: only 64 percent of the ninth graders of 2001 had graduated four years later.  It may not yet be shocking enough. Not everyone sees the urgency that the Regents see.  Employers see it, of course. The employers are contenders, not observers of the global arena. They were our partners in the USNY Summit, and continue to engage educators about what graduates need to know. Higher education sees the need for urgency. Higher education institutions in the top echelon are global institutions themselves in terms of student admissions, faculty recruitment, and establishment of new campuses abroad.  Students see it in part, although many of them still think that some students canít achieve. There is a growing literature about what students think is missing in their education. But school leaders tell me that many of their peers do not yet see the need for urgency.  Our communication task is still urgent, and we refresh our message by seeing more high schools in action, and by listening to parents and students.

 

      High school graduation rates must improve because low skills jobs are evaporating in this economy. Anthony Carnevale of the National Center on Education and the Economy explained that to us more than a year ago.  Better graduation rates are only part of the picture. The Education Trust studies argue that high impact high schools focus not on high school graduation but on admission and completion of college.  The global economy demands skill and knowledge that are beyond high school.  The current high school graduation standards around the nation may not match what the higher education and employer community is demanding, according to Achieve, Inc.

 

      The Regents have changed the policy framework in New York by pointing to the pipeline of opportunity from Pre-kindergarten through graduate school.  It is no longer just about improving K-12 education. However, many policy leaders around the nation and among our global competitors now think along the same lines, and even use the pipeline imagery. And they are working hard to improve results.  For example, in China last September, we didnít visit middle schools in isolation, but as links in the chain of opportunity from early education to graduate schools. Students and faculty in those schools knew that progression from one level to the next was essential and they also knew what was expected at the level ahead of them.  

 

      While Regents and State Education Departments do not teach children or administer schools, there are many concrete things that only we can do.  The Regents decide who may and may not teach.  Many children have teachers who are not certified in the subject they are teaching. By a date certain, the Regents can end this practice in one subject after another, starting now.  There are high schools in New York that graduate fewer than 35 percent of their 9th graders after four years.  As Commissioner, I can accelerate registration review and close those schools, preferably with the help of local leaders.  Our No Child Left Behind plan includes graduation rate targets, but they are far too low to drive change. The Regents can establish rigorous graduation rate targets based on the cohort data and discussion with educators and the public.  I recently visited a high school with a 36 percent graduation rate and 82 percent average daily attendance. The Regents could establish attendance targets and require effective practices to improve attendance.  There are high schools in New York where we have engaged for years that have now attracted the interest of presidents, deans and faculty of nearby colleges and universities.  We can direct low performing schools to accept that help. The Regents can schedule and take all of these actions to build momentum for better high school results.

 

      The Syracuse Superintendent of Schools observed that knowledge to support high school improvement is abundant. Stated more bluntly, we donít need to make this up. There are many expert practitioners and scholars, we are consulting with many of them, and can bring them to the Board.  The leaders of the Big Five schools systems are doing just that in their communities.  Most people agree that no one has figured out the whole problem, but we can ensure that we use the best of what we do know. 

 

      Here are the common threads in the national literature about high school reform: Widespread understanding of performance data among faculty and administrators drives improvement. Instruction must improve, and when teachers observe teachers, and have continuing opportunities to discuss practice, this improvement occurs.  Curriculum must be rigorous, engaging for all students, and pitched to the demands of work, citizenship and further education in the 21st century, where global factors affect all of us.  Every student must be and feel known by a caring adult in the school. Smaller schools or smaller communities within schools make that more likely. The school culture must reinforce high performance for students and teachers. The aim must be high school completion and more: postsecondary completion.  Students need jobs and internships while in school to learn and practice what the modern, high skill workplace expects. As we visit schools in Syracuse, we will ask to see those ideas in practice. 

 

      The Syracuse Regents meeting will provide one model for a productive discussion about higher performance in high school.  Regents-led meetings in the other cities might develop different approaches that work in those places. Itís important to engage the leaders. Chancellor Klein in New York City, and Superintendents Williams of Buffalo, Rivera of Rochester, Pierorazio of Yonkers, and Lowengard of Syracuse have shared bold plans for high school improvement with us. The Regents may want to talk with them one-by-one. It would be a great advantage to New York if we align state policy and local actions on high school.

 

      Regents might find it useful to consider the high school problem from three perspectives simultaneously. First, stop the potential high school performance problem before it starts. That means extending and building on Regents policy and the gains of recent years through more pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten, early reading practices, and good follow through on middle school policy. If we do that right, students will arrive at ninth grade ready to do high school work. Second, enable students in high school now to stay in school and graduate with a Regents diploma.  That means intensifying the strategies of Destination Diploma: good transitions from eight to ninth grade, a curriculum that is both more rigorous and more engaging, expanded Career and Technical Education, fast and effective help for students, effective teacher support.  And third, imagine and build the high schools of the future. This means estimating the skills and knowledge needed for citizenship, work and further education in the near future, defining multiple models of new high schools, and making the right changes in state policy to allow such models to start and flourish.  

 

Teachers Certified In The Subjects They Teach

 

Four years ago the Education Department was issuing more than 14,000 temporary licenses a year. The commitment to stop allowing uncertified teachers was the right policy direction for our children. As we work on closing the achievement gap, we still face a challenge with securing teachers certified in the subjects they are teaching. There are shortages especially in mathematics, science, special education and foreign languages.

 

Next month Johanna Duncan-Poitier will provide teacher supply and demand data in New York State by certification and geographic location. These data will be a planning tool for colleges, prospective teachers and school districts. We will describe strategies that include plans with colleges to promote certain programs, legislation to provide incentives to recruit recently retired certified teachers and proposals to modify reciprocity policy and re-assess certain certification requirements.

 

        

24-Month Calendar

 

The Regents 24-month calendar, once it is adopted by the Board, defines the important policy decisions.  It signals to the public and all USNY communities what the Regents consider most worth doing.  As one Regent put it, the policy calendar is the Regents performance agreement.  And by defining in advance the work they will do, the Regents summon others to begin their own analysis, options development, and advocacy.  Committee chairs and Deputy Commissioners collaborate on what the committees and later, the full Board will do to decide policy and monitor and evaluate existing policy.

 

      The draft 24-month calendar reflects discussions with committee chairs and deputies. The draft also reflects these decision rules: All items listed for discussion will be followed at some point by a Board action or decision. Policy issues go to the appropriate committee for action before appearing on the Full Board.  Other items appear as monitoring reports, which may or may not lead to policy discussion and decision, and if they do, the Board will modify its calendar accordingly.  Monitoring reports are important, but need not be presented orally to the Board.

 

 


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Last Updated: April 17, 2006