BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Meeting in Brief: Welcome to three new Regents: Milton Cofield, Judith Rubin and James Tallon. The meeting will open with a review of progress on Regents priorities. Most of this report to the Regents is a summary of the Regents reform agenda, organized by the Critical Needs approved by the Regents in January. The Regents will review the achievement of students in special education. In a joint committee meeting, the Board will discuss policy on leadership education. Regents will discuss the research program of the State Museum.
Continuity and Renewal
The Board completes a transition this month with a new Chancellor and three new Regents. Chancellor Bennett thought it a good time to reflect on the policy agenda that the Regents and the State Education Department have in hand. Committee chairs and Deputy Commissioners will outline progress and prospects as they appear in the committees’ work. Where are we in that work and where we are headed?
My response to those questions is from a University-wide perspective. The University of the State of New York represents nearly 10,000 educational and cultural institutions, all under the care of the Board of Regents. The University is without equal in resources, scope of action, and talent.
In exercising governance and stewardship over that entity, the Regents have adopted and renewed a strategic plan. The plan includes our mission -- "To raise the knowledge, skill, and opportunity of all the people of New York" – and our vision -- "We will provide leadership for a system that yields the best educated people in the world." The plan also includes goals and performance measures, and we check results continually.
The Regents reform agenda is as comprehensive as our strategic plan. We seek to educate all children to a standard sufficient for citizenship, work, and competent, caring, responsible adulthood. We will make New York’s cultural richness – museums, libraries, archives, and public broadcasting – available to all, for in these institutions education is part of the mission. We have a Pre-K through 16 view of the education system because most people need education beyond high school. We support and enhance the quality of higher education, and try to make it available to all. We provide vocational rehabilitation so that persons with disabilities can find work. We protect the public from unsafe practice in the professions, and protect the integrity of the professions. We want all services of the State Education Department to be responsive to the public.
The Regents thought about all of that recently and identified Critical Needs. Those priorities organize the following comments on what’s done and what needs to be. More than one part of the University and more than one Regents committee is engaged in each critical need.
"Promote academic standards for all students from Pre-K
to adult and provide extra help to close the performance gaps"
Each part of this strategy reflects the standards. For example, the assessments certify achievement of the standards. Teacher certification assures that new teachers can teach to the standards. The Regents state aid proposal is to close the gaps in meeting the standards.
The gaps drive us. Last month the School Report Card illuminated the gaps in achievement by race and poverty. The gaps are unacceptable but there is hope because many schools with high proportions of minority or poor students are closing these gaps.
We have engaged urban communities and built new capacity to support improvement, opened a high standard Career and Technical program, and provided many adjustments to the assessments. There is more to do.
Here are some pressing issues:
"Provide guidance on curriculum and practice."
The Regents discussion of special education results this month will reveal the importance of greater access to the general education curriculum for children with disabilities. Many children have that access now and thrive. Many others do not have such access and that partly explains low performance.
The State Education Department publishes curriculum guides that outline what students should study to meet the standards. These frameworks are not arranged grade by grade, but in clusters of grades. The State Education Department is developing a web portal to make curriculum and teacher lesson plans widely available. Technology when coupled with testing data allows us to find parts of the standards that are problematic for many children. As Deputy Commissioner Jim Kadamus noted, if many students struggle with fractions, we can use technology to distribute the successful approaches developed by several expert teachers.
Improving practice in the classroom is a huge new field of
action. There is growing consensus on how to teach all children to read, for
example. The No Child Left Behind legislation backs this view with money –
approximately $68.4 million per year for New York in the Reading First program.
All teachers need opportunities to learn and share effective practice. The State
Education Department has outlined an early grades reading program, complete with
extensive teacher education, and fueled by Reading First and our three-year
grant of $82 million from the Reading Excellence Act.
Teachers and other educators hunger for information on practice. In our ten regional forums on middle grades we underestimated the demand and have made changes to accommodate it. We also created ten regional school improvement centers to help improve practice. The BOCES are yet another source. But what does the customer want?
I asked a group of expert teachers from around the state what
improving practice would look like. They said they wanted frequent opportunities
to talk with colleagues. The subject would be student work and the teacher work
that helped produce it. They wanted to observe expert practice, try it
themselves with coaching and review, and then apply what they learned in their
own classrooms. We must respond to this demand with the right combination of
tradecraft, technology, and face-to-face professional discussion.
"Identify shortfalls in the supply of teachers and licensed professionals and implement statewide strategies that will help employers to fill these vacancies."
We identified the shortages. New York needs about 23,000 more teachers next year. The shortages are acute in the cities, and in mathematics and science. Shortages in other subjects will come quickly as teachers retire. We track the proportions of teachers in each subject and region who are close to retirement or lacking in certification. In April the Regents will see in the special education performance data additional reasons to confront teacher shortages.
Attrition is high among new teachers (38 percent have left
teaching after 6 years in New York City). Many teachers are uncertified (17
percent in New York City). In schools with more than 80 percent minority
students, almost a quarter of the teachers are uncertified. We have discussed
the data with all the higher education sector leaders, many presidents and
deans, and with other educators. Many hands are needed to resolve this problem.
Teaching is not the only profession facing shortages. Last year Regent McGivern chaired the Task Force on Nursing, and since that group reported our Office of Professions has coordinated follow through in several partner organizations. The Regents heard about shortages in several other licensed professions at their policy conference last fall.
We also anticipate shortages among school superintendents and principals. A year ago January we asked school superintendents and district superintendents to tap future leaders. In ten regional meetings we met 1900 future leaders. Meanwhile a new leadership education capacity is emerging at regional levels as partnerships between senior practitioners and higher education. All of this responds to the Regents Blue Ribbon Panel on leadership.
This year, the Regents will decide policy on the education of
future school leaders. Kevin McGuire has developed a statement of what we know
and believe about the education of leaders. We began with questions that emerged
in the "call to leadership" forums. Dr. McGuire’s task has been to
write answers in consultation with educators and academics statewide. The next
step is for Regents to formulate policy on the education of school leaders.
"Propose a state aid formula that directs a higher percentage of aid to the school districts that have the greatest need."
The current Regents proposal calls for an increase of $599 million, with 87 percent allocated to high need school districts. This proposal reflects years of research on district spending patterns, local effort, need, regional cost differences, special education funding, and incentives. The proposal, like the earlier versions in previous years, also reflects the Regents steady focus on closing gaps in student achievement.
Our proposal is sound because it would simplify state aid,
focus available funds on the children in greatest need, give much needed
flexibility to school districts, recognize regional cost differences, and
provide a gradual change from the current system to the one we need. Unlike the
current system that is largely abandoned in practice, it would be a formula that
"Complete the renewal of the State Museum and convince the Legislature and the Executive to adopt the New Century Libraries proposal".
The Executive Budget proposes to remove all of Cultural Education from the Regents and the State Education Department and place these educational institutions under executive control. This is unsupportable. It is a rejection of the mission of the Regents. Governor Theodore Roosevelt recognized that libraries and museums are part of education in every sense and must be united with all the other elements under Regents stewardship.
The Regents have plans to renew both the Museum and the libraries and library systems. The Museum renewal requires $60 million. The New Century Libraries plan will cost $105 million this year.
While we advocate for these funds, both the libraries and the Museum are making extreme efforts to improve offerings to the public and engage more supporters. For example, the Museum attendance is up 50 percent over last year (comparing the most recent three months). Why is this? The Fleet Great Art Series with the major New York City museums, the opening of Windows on New York, and the Henrietta Marie exhibit are just a few reasons. Over the last year, the State Museum organized seven new exhibits and borrowed eight more from other institutions.
The libraries across New York report large increases in usage since last fall. Even without the financial support proposed, the number of people living in areas served by a public library is steadily rising. The partnership assembled to conceive the New Century Libraries initiative has held together and expanded.
We expanded the partnership late last year by listening to
the research librarians. As a result, we increased our New Century Libraries
request by $10 million to respond to research library needs, and began a series
of discussions with SUNY leaders concerning the Higher Education Initiative.
The Higher Education Initiative – organized under the auspices of the SUNY Provost - builds on existing electronic resources to create a new coalition among the academic libraries in both SUNY and the Independent colleges and universities. The Higher Education Initiative and New Century Libraries have common goals. At recent meetings of library leaders, I have expressed strong support for the Higher Education Initiative and Provost Peter Salins has voiced similar support for New Century Libraries.
"Expand the capacity of vocational rehabilitation and workforce development systems to help people with disabilities find employment and succeed in higher education."
Almost 600,000 people with disabilities of working age in New York do not have a job. Our vocational rehabilitation has until this year increased the number of these individuals employed without any increase in federal or state funding for many years. Now new federal programs stress the capacity even more. Ticket to Work is a program of the Social Security Administration that is sending invitations to each of the 600,000 urging them to seek vocational rehabilitation. Federal funding for those who accept training will not flow until years later, after they have taken a job and remained in it. In addition, the Workforce Investment Act created a network of local workforce boards that will try to boost workforce training and employment.
Both of these initiatives are promising, but our vocational rehabilitation capacity is finite. If more people apply than we can serve, we are forced into "order of selection," which means that only those most in need will get help. Other states that have been pushed into this condition have experienced a virtual collapse of vocational rehabilitation. This drives our advocacy for the Regents proposal to add $10 million to our capacity.
The Regents also have a higher education initiative related
to this priority. More students with disabilities are graduating from high
school after passing Regents exams and they expect to attend college. The
leaders of all sectors of higher education joined us at VESID in creating
strategies to help higher education prepare for this opportunity. We are
advocating for $15 million to support colleges and universities.
Comments on Selected Regents Agenda Items this Month
Special education data: progress and challenge
The full Board discussion of the special education results will show that we have strategies that work. We will also see differences in outcomes that indicate that specific placement can be important in explaining results. Children with disabilities in some communities are doing very well, but the picture is disturbing in other communities. And again, the middle grades are a particularly troubling part of the story.
We will examine test scores, placement, access to the general education curriculum, teacher certification, race and poverty. And as we always do, we will consider actions to improve results, which are drawn from the actions of those already getting those results.
Leadership; the ground is prepared for policy
The proposed answers are specific because only then will they
provoke the debate that is needed to support Regents policy action. They may or
may not be the best answers but they respond to the problem and reflect both the
literature and practice of leadership. I thank Kevin McGuire and his colleagues
for this thoughtful work.
Here are the policy questions which only the Regents can answer: how will one become a school leader? How will New York find, prepare, certify, and keep current a sufficient number of leaders of character, skill, and diversity to enable all children to reach the standards?
I recommend that the Regents begin discussion of this draft statement, seek statewide comment from all affected groups and individuals, then write Board policy and act upon it this year.
Building a student record system
New York needs a student data system to support analysis of
student performance through the grades. Local and regional leaders have built
parts of the foundation. Now State Education Department leadership is needed to
link local, regional, and statewide capabilities.
We want to be able to ask questions about changes in performance in relation to the standards from elementary to middle grades and on to Regents level. Are all children accounted for, where are the problems, which schools seem able to resolve them, and what more can we do to support improvement?
The next steps are to create a unique student identifier, to support it with appropriate technology, and then to begin creating a relational database that organizes data collection while making the data more useful for policy and operational decisions.
The State Museum is a research institution
Earlier in this report I mentioned the attendance increases
at the State Museum due in part to several outstanding new exhibits. At their
April meeting the Regents will turn to another side of the Museum – its
research agenda. Beyond the exhibition halls and seldom seen by the visiting
public are the research facilities and staff.
In the last year these scientists have produced 39 peer-reviewed publications. They attracted resources from institutions such as the National Science Foundation, Earthwatch, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Energy, among many others. State Museum scientists are making contributions to knowledge in natural gas storage, carnivore research, archaeology, Zebra mussel control, and molecular phylogenetics, to cite only a few.
Schools Under Registration Review
The companion to Regents policy decision is Regents review of policy implementation. The report on the Schools Under Registration Review creates a good opportunity for that kind of discussion.
The report is rich in data and offers specific observations
from the data. Much of it is very positive and suggests that the SURR policy is
sound and that we have followed through rigorously. There are also some
observations that spotlight problems.
For example, "The failure to align instruction with State standards has emerged as a critical issue for schools identified for Registration Review." Half of the schools newly identified for SURR status are outside New York City. Schools that come off the SURR list have improved but still lag behind schools generally.
A monthly publication of the State Education Department
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