BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
Meeting in Brief: EMSC-VESID will discuss actions to improve high school graduation rates and a proposal to increase job placements for persons with disabilities through a redesign of Vocational Rehabilitation. The Committee on Higher Education and Professional Practice will review teacher supply and demand data and strategies to ensure that all teachers are certified in the subjects they teach. The superintendent and board members of Roosevelt School District will report to the Regents. The Regents will discuss data on the achievement of students with disabilities. The Regents received an item on advisory councils that is not on the agenda for discussion but I mention it here in case there are questions.
All students need at least a high school diploma. Month by month the Regents have increased both pressure and support to improve graduation rates. Two breakthroughs have had particular power. The first was the USNY Summit, which revealed both the global stakes and the leaders and institutions ready to commit to action. The second was the data. The four-year graduation rate of 64 percent is unacceptable. It woke people up to the urgency of the problem.
A month later detailed results for different groups of students brought disturbing evidence of the achievement gaps. Still later, Board discussions illuminated examples of good practices in high schools as grounds for hope. Other Regents discussions outlined potential state-level actions, and the foundation built in earlier policy. In April, the Regents drew the public eye into the schools when they visited high schools with low graduation rates, together with their feeder schools. The Board also listened to students and their parents. Meanwhile, teams from 127 low graduation rate high schools again convened in Destination Diploma to develop local actions. We learned that leaders in the Big Five are creating their own responses to improve graduation rates. And many who made commitments to help at the Summit have followed through in visible ways. The superintendents and district superintendents have told us they are eager to see a coordinated statewide approach. NYSUT leadership spoke forcefully to their delegate assembly about the urgency and their own commitment.
Success requires action at all levels of the system. This month the Regents will discuss the galvanizing actions they can take. Here are some of them:
And here are two important next steps: Create panels of national and state experts, both scholars and practitioners, to keep the best thinking about high school reform before us as we deliberate. And engage students, parents and employers, because they are the customers.
The EMSC-VESID committee will discuss a Regents item that includes these and related actions in greater detail.
Teacher Supply and Demand
All students need teachers who are certified in the subjects they are teaching. This is another element of high school reform, and a contributor to academic performance at all levels. The Regents Committee on Higher Education and Professional Practice will discuss a staff report that shows significant disparities in the supply of teachers. This report provides statewide data for 2004-05. For example, 93 percent of all classes in the core subjects are taught by “highly qualified teachers,” but in high poverty secondary schools, only 80 percent are. We also see a disparity between New York City and the rest of the state. In New York City, for example, over 30 percent of teaching assignments are held by persons without appropriate certification in these subjects: arts, career and technical education, English as a second language, library and school media specialist, and reading. The shortages in these subjects are much lower in the rest of the state. However, Deputy Commissioner Duncan-Poitier cautions that these data may understate the problem. For example, there may be sufficient numbers of certified teachers in a subject, but for various reasons individual teachers and school officials may not come to agreement so positions remain unfilled.
The Committee on Higher Education and the Professions will discuss this issue and potential actions to resolve it. Some of the ideas to improve the supply also appear in an item before the EMSC Committee, because teacher supply and demand is relevant to improving high school graduation rates. Those strategies include: create incentives for retired teachers to re-enter the workplace, direct that all teachers be certified in the subject they teach by a date certain, modify reciprocity to allow highly qualified teachers from other states to be certified here without passing the three New York teacher exams, and expand alternative certification programs.
Roosevelt School District
Roosevelt High School is a visible test of our resolve to raise high school achievement. As a result of special legislation which enabled the Commissioner to remove the district board of education and the Regents to appoint an interim board, it is our responsibility to see that graduation rates improve. Superintendent Ronald Ross, Board President Edward McCormick, and other members of the Roosevelt Board of Education will speak with the Regents and respond to questions. To prepare for that conversation, I visited Roosevelt this month.
The superintendent began a 9th grade academy this year in part because just 18 percent met the standards in 8th grade English Language Arts. All 9th graders spend their first high school year in this program, which has its own wing in the high school. They begin a week earlier than everyone else to sharpen study skills, leadership and teamwork. All the teachers in the academy are volunteers.
I found the halls in the high school empty during class periods, with students at their desks in class. The new security team is professional, courteous, and quietly effective. A group of seniors told me the school feels safe. Academic and behavior expectations are high and continually re-enforced. New technology controls attendance data, monitors patterns, and allows a quick response when teachers and students are absent. Low attendance is still a barrier to achievement. The curriculum office just completed a new, well-written course handbook that describes a challenging curriculum, including several new Advanced Placement courses.
A State Education Department team has been in Roosevelt this week to evaluate student achievement data. The Superintendent believes that the high school has achieved performance targets to justify removal from the SURR list. It will take some time to evaluate this.
Finances will also be part of our discussion. The voters rejected the budget in Roosevelt this week. On May 17, a State Education Department audit on the district’s financial controls was completed. The audit found that Roosevelt has many of the necessary internal controls but there are many needed improvements. For example, the Roosevelt Board did not routinely receive all information necessary to monitor the districts financial condition. The treasurer did not perform all the duties required, and some of these duties were assigned to others. The audit reports some unnecessary or inadequately documented expenditures. And there are needed changes in procedures and practices. Roosevelt officials have agreed with all 62 recommendations and have implemented 33 of them so far.
Here are some questions the Regents might ask board members:
· Why is middle level ELA performance so low? What’s the strategy to improve?
· How will you improve the transition from 8th grade to 9th grade?
· What questions does the board ask about monthly financial reports to monitor the financial condition of the district?
Effective policy implementation requires communications that are reliable and continuous. Advisory councils have traditionally filled part of that need. The Regents asked for an evaluation of existing councils, so this month we provide an inventory as we prepare for that evaluation.
Many advisory groups are required by federal or state law. Most have been in existence for more than a decade. Advisory groups of various kinds have helped build relationships, solved problems, searched for good policy ideas, and in general, knocked the rough edges off the governing process. All of those are good things. They also take a lot of staff time and can contribute to an insider-outsider feeling. In some cases they may be artifacts of an earlier set of priorities.
Here are some first impressions from that inventory.
• The list doesn’t reflect the current focus on USNY, which is the necessity of many institutions working together to educate everyone to Regents standards. Rather, the advisory councils may unintentionally reinforce the silos that remain a characteristic of the Department and the education system.
• Most advisory councils are focused on participants in the educational process and few provide a voice for the “customer” — parent, employer, general public, or student.
• Few of the advisory groups reflect Regents priorities — closing the achievement gap, teacher recruitment and retention, improving high school and college completion rates, or filling shortages in the professions. These priorities do appear on the agenda for many advisory group meetings, however.
• The advisory groups appear to focus on policy implementation rather than policy guidance because there is no direct Regents participation. While we frequently use advisory council meetings as sounding boards when the Regents are debating policy, there is no routine way to inform the Regents of the advice we receive.
And here are some questions to guide the evaluation:
· Should we redefine the purposes of the non-mandated advisory councils? Are they to support policy implementation, policy development or both?
· Do advisory councils also perform a communications function and if so, is that a reliable and sufficient way to communicate?
· How much SED staff time is devoted to attendance at advisory councils and does the yield justify the cost?
· Should we create a USNY advisory group with representation that reflects the Summit? What would be its charge?
· Should we re-commission, retire, or modify the charge for each non-mandated advisory group?
· Can we create an inexpensive method of recording and communicating the advice from each advisory council meeting?
Students with Disabilities
The School Report Card contains extensive data about school performance. This month, we report a sub-set of the data, which is about the performance of children with disabilities. The data show that performance gains are slow, and huge gaps remain in comparison with non-disabled students and also among districts with different need-resource ratios. There continue to be improvements in providing education in “least restrictive environments” but the big cities and New York City in particular continue to educate many children with disabilities in special classes.
Regents have pointed out that this is a familiar picture. The question, then, is, “What will we do differently to induce real change?”
Proprietary Colleges in New York State
In January, the Committee on Higher Education and Professional Practice asked for a comprehensive report on the process by which for-profit (proprietary) colleges are approved and regulated in New York State. The Committee further requested that the Department not advance any new requests to operate proprietary colleges in this State until the review was undertaken. While the majority of proprietary colleges provide a quality education to students who may not otherwise have access to higher education, the request was precipitated by the recent accounts of poor academic practices and in some cases, fraud, on the part of a select group of proprietary institutions in New York and in other states. Before the Regents this month is that requested report. The report includes comments from the Board of Regents Advisory Council on Institutional Accreditation, presidents of proprietary colleges in New York State, and other State's regulatory agencies.
Five recommendations are proposed to ensure the quality of education at proprietary colleges, help to ensure all students are prepared to succeed and graduate, and protect the public's investment in the proprietary sector. The recommendations are:
1. Require a transition period before new higher education institutions in New York State are given final authority to award degrees to ensure that standards of quality are upheld and students are appropriately served at proprietary colleges during periods of transition. This recommendation would also limit any expansion during the provisional period.
2. Require that the sale of degree-granting proprietary institutions in New York State be approved by the Education Department prior to purchase and that the new owners demonstrate capacity to meet the education and fiscal standards to operate the institution before ownership is established. Regents approval of the transfer of degree authority to the new institution and/or owner will still be required.
3. Endorse the Department’s legislative strategy to enhance the capacity to monitor the proprietary sector to ensure high standards of educational quality, protect the public’s investment, and to take action in cases where institutions are out of compliance and students could be at risk.
4. Clearly define and differentiate remedial and developmental courseware from credit-bearing college courseware to ensure that students are appropriately prepared to succeed and to graduate; and
5. Strengthen admissions policies. Ensure prospective college students, especially those without a high school diploma or GED, have accurate information on the college, job placement, and/or transfer opportunities necessary to make educated enrollment decisions.
Creating the VR System of the Future
The Regents will discuss data which leads us to consider actions to increase the pace and number of job placements for persons with disabilities. The EMSC-VESID committee will discuss a summary of several pilot efforts, all of which conclude in December, to develop faster intake of vocational rehabilitation consumers, better service through collaboration with other agencies, and a new staff configuration to make more effective use of the unique skills of counselors.
A monthly publication of the State Education Department
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