BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Meeting in Brief: The Regents will convene in Rockland County this month and will also visit schools in all eight school districts as well as a museum, BOCES special education program, and the Lower Hudson Valley Challenger Center. The Regents will hear from the subcommittee on Communication, Advocacy and Support – one of the two subcommittees of our Statewide Gap Implementation Advisory Committee. The Regents will hear about the formal approval of New York’s accountability plan by the U.S. Secretary of Education, consistent with the No Child Left Behind Act. The Regents will hold a community forum in Nyack.
Regents School Accountability Plan Approved
President Bush recognized New York in a White House ceremony on January 8 among only five states that have approved school accountability plans consistent with the No Child Left Behind Act. The Regents and the State Education Department have worked for many years to improve student achievement and hold schools accountable and we will continue that work. In more recent months, Regents considered and then decided a number of complex policy questions that enabled the State Education Department to complete our application to the Secretary of Education.
The approval process was rigorous. State Education Department staff from many units performed with distinction. I particularly want to commend the actions of James Kadamus, Larry Gloeckler, Shelia Evans-Tranumn, Ira Schwartz, Martha Musser, and Richard Trautwein. They and their colleagues provided details, answered questions, supported arguments with data, and responded to federal challenges with detailed models. As a result of their diligence, the Regents school accountability system was endorsed without significant change by the Secretary. I also commend the work of local school leaders over the last several years. They are the ones who brought school accountability to life at the classroom level where children benefit.
The Governor will deliver his budget message at the end of the month but every day offers an opportunity for us to deliver budget messages of a kind to school superintendents, library leaders, Department staff and everyone else we meet. Here are some of the points I have been making:
District Superintendent Cap Bill Vetoed
Governor Pataki vetoed a bill that would have gradually raised the cap on District Superintendent salaries. In his veto message, the Governor acknowledged that the cap in current form made recruiting and retaining high-quality candidates difficult in some parts of the State. He proposed an alternative solution: 1) limited annual increase, 2) include deputy and assistant superintendents, 3) fix the salary to the Commissioner’s salary as of a certain date, and 4) make the change effective prospectively. We are discussing this with legislative leaders who championed the bill, and with affected educators and associations. There is an opportunity here to seek a three-way solution that is consistent with the priority that Regents have assigned to this issue for several years. We want to try to resolve this early in the new session if that is possible.
Challenges to the Regents Exams
After the 2002 January Regents exams were challenged last spring because the State Education Department had modified literary passages for "sensitivity," I immediately ended that practice. Recently critics said that the practice continued in the August exams. That is not correct. The exam includes excerpts because the originals were too long for use in their entirety. That is, the excerpting was done for length, not sensitivity. We announced in June that works would be excerpted in whole paragraphs for length. Elsewhere in the exam there were two minor errors. In one case we incorrectly identified a person as the narrator when he was actually the host of the program in which the script was used. In another case the test included in the instructions for a question two sentences which appeared at the beginning and the end of a paragraph, but we did not use an ellipse to indicate the missing sentences. This was not done for sensitivity as critics charged. The operational management of the assessment can still be improved, it will be, and I have made that clear to my colleagues. Some critics want the Regents exams to be even better, and their criticism is a welcome aid to that end. Other critics simply want no Regents or other standardized exams at all. It is important to consider the difference in perspective in reacting to the criticism. We published copies of the exams for all who want to see them.
USNY Is a Strategic Advantage to New York
The January Regents meeting will have a USNY flavor in that the Board will visit schools, a library/museum and meet at a college. Thinking back over the last few weeks, USNY is visible as a strategic advantage as well as a constant presence. For example, last week I saw the new "video on demand" system that enables teachers to use thousands of instructional videos from PBS. Our success with No Child Left Behind depended in part on having elementary and secondary and VESID muscle in the game. Or to cite a third example, after the Regents in December expressed interest in linking schools and community colleges to help certain students meet the standards, I talked with Chancellors King and Goldstein to plan how this could be accomplished. These examples are among the many reminders of good work across the boundaries of USNY institutions.
The State of the State message urged the Regents to focus on the secondary schools, and we have done that, as the President’s recognition of our accountability system signified. Other states, without New York’s advantages, couldn’t or at least didn’t do this until we showed the way. The State of the State message also included a proposal to remove the Office of the Professions from the State Education Department. We oppose that. Under Regents governance and Johanna Duncan-Poitier’s leadership, the Office of the Professions won national awards for excellence and also one of the first Governor’s Workforce Champions Awards. As Governor Theodore Roosevelt asserted at the beginning of the last century, libraries, museums, schools, archives, higher education are all part of education. Now VESID and Professions have long since demonstrated the case for their presence because they are all about education.
Communicating About the Gap
The Gap Subcommittee on Communication, Advocacy and Support, chaired by William Baker and Monte Trammer, has in a few pages defined the essence of a campaign to motivate the public and its leaders to resolve the unacceptable – and unnecessary – gap in student achievement. They stated the message, outlined tactics, and explained how to address the issues.
Education Week Gives New York an A for Accountability and Assessment
Education Week’s Quality Counts again ranks New York first among the 50 States for standards and accountability. This annual evaluation of states gave us a C on teacher quality, mainly because New York does not require and fund mentoring. On resources, we got A for adequacy and a D+ for equity. The Regents State aid proposal makes the same point.
District Superintendents Offer Perspective on Middle Grades
We have invited all interested parties to enter the middle grades policy debate and many have sent papers. The most recent is from the District Superintendents. Regents will recall their useful and persuasive contribution to the Career and Technical Education debate. Deputy Commissioner Kadamus and I have engaged the District Superintendents on the ideas in their paper and will do so again in February, at which point the material should also come to the Regents EMSC Committee. The current approach to middle school education is well established although few are satisfied with the results. In that light, we can challenge the District Superintendents to help envision the implementation strategy that will yield real change once the new conceptual model is in hand and approved by the Regents.
A monthly publication of the State Education Department
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