BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Meeting in Brief: The Regents will meet this month in the Mid-Hudson region and the theme will be "strengthening teaching." The Higher and Professional Education Committee will discuss proposals to respond to the teacher shortage in New York City. Regents will visit the Teacher Center, the Regional Support Center, and the State School Safety Center, all institutions that support teaching. There will be small group discussions on the theme and also a community forum. The Regents will visit many schools in the area and conclude with a Full Board meeting during which the Board will appoint the Interim School Board in Roosevelt, among other actions.
The call to strengthen teaching covers a lot of ground. This theme summons all the resources of the University of the State of New York – not only teacher preparation programs, but also libraries, museums and other cultural institutions, college and university presidents, higher education systems leaders, school superintendents, and teachers themselves.
Responding to the call involves not only the changes in teacher education, but also changes in recruiting strategies, and possible further expansion of alternative certification opportunities.
Inasmuch as the Regents are visiting local schools, we begin with the teacher’s perspective. I recently asked teachers from around the state what is happening when they are improving practice. They want frequent opportunities to talk with other teachers about student work and the teacher work that makes it possible. They want to observe expert practice, try it themselves with some coaching, then use the new practice with their own students. They also want to hear about the research, but in a practical context. The schedule is often the obstacle, but many schools overcome this, so why can’t every
school? This is a question that I now routinely ask of school leaders.
Strengthening teaching also requires recruiting. People involved with recruiting for the Fellows Program in New York City report a very large response this year. That matches my impression from e-mail and other contacts. A lot of people would like to teach. They need to be asked directly.
Again, there is a teacher perspective on this. Jean Rose, Co-Chair of the Professional Standards and Practices Board, invited Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier and me to a class at SUNY-Albany to observe teachers recruiting future teachers. Here are some of the comments from the students:
"I have always had mixed feelings about becoming a teacher and now I want to."
"I thought it was so valuable to hear those teachers, especially hearing that I am not the only prospective teacher who is petrified. They also were when they began."
"It was definitely the most memorable night of class in my college career and it had a great effect on me."
"The comments about the rewards of teaching surprised me. I knew that it was rewarding, but never understood how passionate teachers are about their profession."
Every other profession sends its best to recruit the future. It’s time that teaching did also. I said exactly that to the NYSUT Delegate Assembly last month.
To support the efforts of the field to recruit teachers, the Education Department and the Board of Regents is overhauling its customer service operation for school professionals. This will include a state-of-the-art service center that will respond to the field 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and dramatically reduce the time it takes to process their applications. They have changed processing, added temporary help, and used what they learned from solving similar problems in the Office of the Professions. The whole team contributes ideas and gets weekly progress reports. The goal is one-week turnaround for a college program recommended candidate and three weeks for all others.
Deputy Commissioner Duncan-Poitier and her colleagues have also prepared a new brochure on how one becomes a teacher. I receive e-mail daily asking the most basic questions about how one becomes a teacher. The brochure is needed because the process looks complicated – and that probably causes New York to lose candidates. We need to make it simple, and look simple.
The Regents have before them a series of policy actions that can expand the pool of candidates by opening more paths to the same high-standard credential. The proposal also reallocates available funds to support teacher recruiting and would test a model program to prepare mathematics teachers.
These Regents proposals would back other actions already taken by the New York City Board of Education.
Chapter 33, Laws of 2002 established four criteria that justified the removal of the school board. At a hearing on May 6 the Roosevelt School Board had an opportunity to be heard on an order to show cause why the board should not be removed. I decided on May 8 that the four conditions had not been rebutted, but in fact were met, and I immediately removed the board. On May 9 Regent Johnson and I met with the community in Roosevelt to talk about the future.
An important step toward that future is the appointment of five members to the Interim School Board in Roosevelt by the Board of Regents. We urged citizens of Roosevelt to apply for those positions, and after review, we interviewed 11 qualified candidates. A temporary Regents Committee chaired by Regent Johnson will interview the six finalists on Tuesday afternoon
I have also asked the Comptroller to audit the financial condition of Roosevelt. With control passing to the Regents and Commissioner as of April 17, we must have a clear starting point on the accounts.
IDEA establishes the fundamental structure for educating children with disabilities and as Congress takes up reauthorization this fall, New York’s voice and experience will be considered. Deputy Commissioner Gloeckler has represented us in discussions with national organizations and more recently has met members of Congress and the Administration. Last week he testified before the House Education Committee and in the near future will appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The well-documented rise in performance among students with disabilities and the rise in their expectations for higher education and employment opportunities are drawing new attention to rehabilitation. VESID leadership is continuing the work with other organizations to inform Congress of need for greater investment in the Rehabilitation Act.
Closing the Gaps in Achievement
The Regents ten-part strategy for closing the gaps in student achievement has focused this work for the last year. In January we created a new group of advisors to support implementation. We quickly deployed half of them to devise strategies to improve instruction and the rest to address communication, advocacy and support. Regents will hear the preliminary views of the former at the May Regents meeting and of the latter at the June meeting.
Regents Authority for Institutional Accreditation
The Secretary of Education will soon decide whether the Regents will continue to have the authority to accredit academic institutions. The State Education Department has worked for more than a year to meet exacting standards of quality, to the point that federal staff have recommended approval. One important part of the Regents responsibility in this matter has been to accredit a number of institutions using new standards. The Board acted on six institutions in March and will consider four more in May, with the support of peer reviewers, the Regents Advisory Council on Institutional Accreditation, and the Deputy Commissioner for Higher Education and her staff.
It was difficult to increase funding for education this year. Under the circumstances, the 2002-2003 budget is a good one for education. In the future we will continue to advocate for more funds for those in highest need.
The resulting state aid increase of $420 million is significant in comparison to the Regents recommendation of $599 million. The budget includes several important restorations, including BOCES, Public and Private Excess Cost Aid, Extraordinary Needs Aid, among several others. A change in building aid data since December makes the final figure very close to the Regents proposal.
The Office of Cultural Education remains in the State Education Department, the funding for the Office of the Professions remains intact, and VESID apparently has the funding through state and federal funds to avoid order of selection. The Office of Higher Education retains the program review function.
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