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For Immediate Release December 14, 2009

For More Information Contact:
Tom Dunn, Jonathan Burman or Jane Briggs at (518) 474-1201
Internet:  http://www.nysed.gov

STATEMENT BY EDUCATION COMMISSIONER DAVID STEINER

AN AGENDA FOR EDUCATION REFORM IN NYS

Each one of our 3.1 million K-12 students in NYS deserves a world-class education – the chance to succeed in college or meaningful employment in our 21st century global economy – along with the tools and the desire for a lifetime of learning. When I was given the task of being Education Commissioner this October by the Chancellor and the Board of Regents - they gave me a very clear charge: raise the quality of education in our state, and work to transform the New York State Education Department into a hub of innovation and best practices.  To make good on that charge means getting the fundamentals right: a demanding, clear curriculum, reliable assessments, high standards, effective teachers in every classroom, and great school leadership. It also means understanding those fundamentals in practice – so my Senior Deputy and I have been traveling throughout the state, hearing from teachers, school leaders, parents, superintendents, Board members, policy makers, and students. Convinced that our current system leaves far too many students falling short of those goals we all share, the Board of Regents and I are dedicating ourselves to a comprehensive, integrated and innovative education reform agenda for our state.

Through their deliberations last month and again today, the Regents will inaugurate this agenda – together we will get to the heart of the matter: addressing standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments.   They will task the State Education Department to work with the field to develop clear, content-rich, sequenced curriculum guides that will form the foundation for a new generation of assessments - assessments that will be redesigned to generate truly useful data for students, teachers, principals and parents.  We cannot keep arguing whether our state tests have become harder or easier, or whether they are less than reliable because they do not track the results of the NAEP exam. Testing must be what it is supposed to be, a set of assessments, not the curriculum.  In too many cases today the assessment has become the curriculum: We will ensure that the state’s tests become less predictable and more comprehensive. The next generation of assessments will offer students not only feedback on their ability to master the crucial foundational knowledge and skills but also to demonstrate, through performance-based assessments the higher-order critical thinking skills they will need for success in higher education and the world of work.

We will expand curricular offerings to embrace the knowledge and skills our students need in the 21st century, by offering curricula and assessments in the Arts, Economics, and Multimedia/Computer Technology. For students who otherwise would lack access to special subject matter at their schools, there will be virtual school offerings, filled with the best of interactive, quality, on-line coursework. 

New curricula and assessment models will not work unless our teachers support them: we will engage the field in our development work, while at the same time, again in concert with P-12 teachers, school principals, superintendents and college teachers, we will redesign teacher and school leader preparation. We should not place a teacher in a classroom, nor a principal in a school, before each has demonstrated their capacity to be effective, including their ability to raise the academic achievement of all students who make up the rich diversity of our state’s student population. We will support richer, more extensive, and better supervised clinical experiences for student-teachers and aspiring principals - we would, for example, expect to see next generation teacher training programs using video as a tool both for demonstrating best practices and for providing aspiring teachers with critical feedback from highly effective mentor teachers.  We will provide incentives to bring effective teachers into our neediest schools and to encourage more teachers to teach science, math, English language learners, and children with special needs.  To support these goals, we will ask higher education institutions to retool their teacher and school leader preparation programs.  In addition, we will, through a limited experiment with rigorous selection and evaluation criteria, ask other providers with track records of success to raise the achievement of high needs students  – like cultural institutions and high performing school networks – to pilot teacher and school leader preparation programs.

We believe teaching well is a deeply complex professional activity, thus the evaluation of teachers must take place along multiple dimensions, but the ability of a teacher to raise the academic performance of her or his students is critical, and that ability – better supported by new models of professional development – must form part of the evaluation system.

Good teaching, effective school leadership, and thoughtful policy making must be informed by accurate, actionable, and interconnected data. Thus, we will accelerate the work of building a comprehensive P-20 data system that helps to link student performance data to educator effectiveness, provides electronic transcripts for all students, connects P-12 education with higher education, and integrates non-educational databases (like information on the workforce and health).  As we build this system, we must be ever vigilant about issues of privacy and the responsible use of data, and we must ensure that teachers and schools are able to incorporate formative assessment data into the system to facilitate collaborative analysis of student performance to drive improved instruction.

While we engage in all this work, we are only too aware that while New York State has some of the finest schools in the country, it has some that are failing students year after year. We agree with the premise embedded in Federal funding opportunities such as Race to the Top that we must generate real options to turnaround such schools, bringing in new models and new partners. The Regents believe that all children deserve excellent schools, and that excellent schools are to be found in multiple forms. Districts with persistently low achieving schools will be given four options: (1) closure; (2) turnaround (in which they replace the principal and 50% or more of the staff); (3) restart (reopening with an external partner); or (4) transformation (in which they replace the principal and implement rigorous staff and school leader development and evaluation systems).   To create additional tools and flexibility for implementing these options, the Regents will discuss today supporting a thoughtful raising of the cap on charter schools and approval for legislation to enable districts to bring in Educational Management Organizations.  The Regents and I are deeply committed to making far better options available to students and their families where failure has been the only option for too long.

Effective reform must also begin with our State Education Department that I now have the honor to lead.  We have a staff deeply dedicated to the effective education of all New York State’s students, ready to embrace a new role for our department as a hub of best practices, a source of research-based support for our nearly seven hundred school districts, and a client-support center ready to assist all our citizens with their education questions and concerns.

While this overview of our reform agenda cannot touch on all the specific policy decisions the Regents are considering today, it does, I hope, suggest the scale of our thinking, and of the resulting work that lies before us.  We recognize that the difficult fiscal climate will make this work more challenging, but it also makes it all the more urgent – the future prosperity of our state and nation depends on educating our children to be the inventors and innovators of tomorrow.  The pace of reform will undoubtedly depend on available resources, but we must be aggressive in seeking additional federal funds – like the 500-700 million dollars Race to the Top could provide – and figuring out creative ways to better leverage existing resources.

The status quo is deeply unacceptable – New York State has historically led the nation through its educational standards and its Regents exams.  Now, for the sake of all of our students, we must work with all of our colleagues in the field of education to do so once again.

Agenda for Reform Summary Briefing - December 14, 2009:
PPT PowerPoint slide show (134 KB) | PDF PDF file (88 KB)

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New York State Board of Regents
The State Education Department / The University of the State of New York / Albany, NY 12234
Office of Communications / (518) 474-1201

Last Updated: December 15, 2009