BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Meeting in Brief: After making several major decisions in the last quarter of 2003, the Board will turn to issues of standards and measurement in many parts of USNY. The Board will review reports on Schools Under Registration Review (SURR), chartering standards in Cultural Education, VESID performance indicators, and middle level education.
There are only two ways to get off the SURR list – improve results for children or close – and the schedule is urgent – three years. Since 1989, 145 schools came off because of improved student achievement and 39 closed. The annual analysis of SURR results is a model for how to learn from persistent action and the data. As the Regents renew the gap closing strategy, these lessons from practice are even more important.
SURR schools improved faster than others, and are spending less time on the list than formerly. The cut point that would put a school on the list has gone up. These facts and others documented in the report show that local educators and SED staff working with them know how to raise achievement in low performing schools.
We see, however, that the same conditions as in earlier years continue to drive schools onto the list: lack of professional development, failure to use assessment results to improve instruction, curriculum deficiencies, and instruction that is poorly aligned with standards. These are preventable conditions. With determined effort and our support, local schools can avoid the SURR list.
The report also includes some disturbing findings. Mathematics is a significant problem for former SURR schools. Children who are Limited English Proficient and students with disabilities perform at low levels in current and former SURR schools. Some of the schools opened to replace closed SURR schools are not performing well.
This report presents hard-won lessons in how to close the gaps. Some of what we read here is very encouraging. Other observations should encourage us to modify our practice.
Implementation of No Child Left Behind
No Child Left Behind has been challenging to implement. For the most part, New York has prevailed over the difficulties for the same reason that led the President to recognize New York among the first five states to achieve approval with the new law: We had a head start with our own approach to standards and accountability. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain as described in the report before the Regents this month. One that concerns us most is the treatment of students with disabilities.
In the December Report to the Regents, I described our dilemma. We want students with disabilities to be part of the accountability system because that leads directly to exposure to the academic curriculum. Children with disabilities need that as much as all other students. The other horn of the dilemma is this: No Child Left Behind requires an unrealistic pace of improvement for some children with disabilities. The integrity of the law is undercut when schools are admonished for failing to keep an unrealistic schedule when they agree with the goal and are struggling toward it with great urgency.
While others complained about so many of the details in the law, New York forged ahead. On this special education issue, New York will speak and expect to be heard.
Conceptual Framework for Middle-level Reform Strategy
Listen long enough to enough knowledgeable people and the answer arrives. It happens repeatedly during Regents policy discussions. The middle-level debate has involved literally thousands of practitioners and other citizens. We listened to the students and their parents. We considered research, heard from the classroom, the boardroom, the administrators, and higher education. The Regents adopted a policy statement and considered several decision frameworks on the regulations.
A rough consensus has emerged that is wise and can be embraced in regulation. Beyond the consensus, there remains a diversity of views about how much time to devote to parts of the curriculum each year and what is the right mix of certified teachers at each grade level. Staff suggests a process to allow the interested parties to resolve that matter locally within a range of approved alternatives, with greater flexibility possible for higher performing schools. It seems that some want flexibility, while others speak passionately for “one size fits all” -- but they want different sizes, and on this topic, it may make sense. The Regents should look to points of consensus as the basis for new regulations and also allow somewhat different solutions where there isn’t one right answer.
Key Performance Indicators for VESID
For almost a decade, VESID has tracked results and focused on problems with a set of performance indicators. Many of those measures have been surpassed and must be reset at a higher level. Other measures still elude us and require different strategies. VESID will engage stakeholders and the Regents through the first quarter of 2004 to renew the strategic plan. The results will come before the Regents in May 2004. The January meeting is an opportunity for the Regents to influence the process.
Year IV Standards Implementation Study
The Regents have the fourth year report on standards implementation, which presents findings from teacher and principal surveys, interviews and school visits; 579 schools were part of the study. There are many positive findings, including highly aligned school level curricula reported by ELA teachers and the 90 percent of ELA teachers who felt “very well prepared” in their subject area. There were also many positives offered about the efforts of administrators. However, the negative findings are useful in guiding us for the future. Consider these examples:
· 40 percent of ELA teachers said they were dissatisfied with the quality of professional development.
· Many high school students who need Academic Intervention Services don’t receive them.
· ELA and Mathematics teachers did not feel well prepared to teach students with disabilities.
The report also includes sections on the barriers to higher achievement. Among the barriers cited are poor student attendance, students coming unprepared to learn, inadequate time to cover the material, and lack of parent support.
These reports cast a wide net and one could read only for the positives or only the negatives. We need to see both and then dig deeper. This report, like the ones that preceded, can inform the Regents commitment to renew the gap-closing strategy.
New Chartering Standards and Process for Museums and Historical Societies
Close readers of the Regents monthly agenda know that talk of standards is not always about the schools. Commissioner Andrew Draper, the first New York Commissioner of Education, talked about standards in a much wider context when he dedicated the State Education Building in 1912. He mentioned standards in schools, to be sure, and also in professions, teacher preparation, colleges, libraries and art.
The Regents Cultural Education Committee will review proposed standards for chartering museums and historical societies. This has been the work of a year and a partnership with the Museum Association of New York, the New York State Council on the Arts, our own Office of Cultural Education and the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The matter will be ready for Regents decision and rules adoption in June.
Statewide Plan for Higher Education
The Statewide Plan for Higher Education is a collaborative effort. The Regents issued the call for institutional and sector planning and included 13 priorities which we discussed with presidents and higher education sector leaders. The institutions have been preparing their plans. In the report before the Regents this month, Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier described several ways for Regents to support higher education’s efforts to bring the plans to life, including advocacy, information sharing, and other work on critical needs, such as the Regents work on teaching and nursing shortages. In the fall, the Regents will decide how they want to support the institutions as they bring their plans to life.
Comprehensive Planning and Shared Decision Making
The State Legislature has signaled its intent to reduce mandates for planning and reporting for schools by requiring the Department to study the matter and make recommendations. The Department took this task seriously, consulted with many groups and then recommended an aggressive approach to consolidate many plans into a single district school improvement plan. The context for planning and shared decision-making has changed in light of the results-based accountability requirements of NCLB and the Regents emphasis on closing the gap in student achievement. School leadership must play an important role in bringing together an array of stakeholders including teachers, parents and the community-at-large in creating a comprehensive school improvement plan for the district. The Department has created models for comprehensive plans through the Comprehensive District Education Plan (CDEP) model upstate and the District Comprehensive Education Plan (DCEP) models used in NYC. We can build on these models and partnership agreements with the Big 4 districts to design a statewide system for comprehensive planning that meets federal and state requirements, consolidates many separate plans and serves as a tool for school improvement.
The Regents can take a series of steps to make all of this happen:
1. Advocate for implementation of the Department's recommendations to the Legislature on plan consolidation.
2. Engage key organizations and groups which have a strong interest in comprehensive planning, mandate relief and shared decision-making to join in this advocacy.
3. Ask the Department to design models for comprehensive school improvement plans which are based on best practice for planning and shared decision-making. This should be done in consultation with the field.
4. Develop a statewide requirement for all districts to have a comprehensive school improvement plan, but one that gives districts with high performance greater flexibility in how to meet that requirement. Districts with low performance would have to follow state models for the comprehensive school improvement plan.
5. Ask the Department to review the statewide technical assistance networks that support high need districts in order to create a system of support for comprehensive school improvement planning for these districts.
(Contributed by Jim Kadamus)
Higher Education Survey
The Office of Higher Education has listened to the higher education community and worked hard to improve service to all the sectors of higher education and to the public. At the January meeting, the Regents will receive the results of a survey of higher education leaders which reveals a high level of satisfaction with SED service and communications. For example, more than 88 percent of respondents reported overall satisfaction. We are responding to areas that need improvement. I am proud of the Higher Education team members for the quality of their work.
A monthly publication of the State Education Department
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