May, 2004
Report to the State Board of Regents


The Meeting in Brief:  The Regents will engage several issues that deal with closing the achievement gap: They will discuss policy on middle level education, hear results for individuals with disabilities, and receive a report on the planning for the USNY Convocation. The Regents will discuss what changes in regulations are needed to provide additional pathways for home-schooled students to attend college. Regents will hear from their advisory council on libraries and discuss a report on long-term collections preservation.


20 Years Late

Again, the state budget is late. Again educational and cultural institutions across New York – our economic engine for a productive future – cannot plan even for one fiscal year, which is already one and a half months gone.

The delay has an added dimension for schools. All but one of the elements of a strategy to close the gaps in achievement are in hand: academic standards, assessments, teacher and administrator standards and preparation programs, accountability, academic intervention, curriculum, and community support. The Regents and the State Education Department engage the educational community in continuous refinement of all this.

The one missing element is a fair, sustainable state aid system. That missing element puts the goal of a fully educated New York at risk – and that puts our economic vitality at risk. The Regents have defined a fair, sustainable state aid system. So have others. We offered the questions, and with several other groups have suggested the answers. Only the Legislature and the Executive can decide.

No one can remain silent while others press the case. Each of us must seize every opportunity to argue for a decision. 

As we advocate, it’s important also to listen. When we listen to the discussion in the State Capitol, there appears to be no deadline yet that would break the deadlock. Certainly the school budget vote was no deadline. Traditional state aid distribution approaches are still guiding in spite of a decade-long court fight that demonstrated that children in some communities do not have funding sufficient to a meaningful education. We need wider acceptance of the reality of local budget situations – how rising uncontrollable costs and flat revenues combine to reduce instructional capacity. We hear frustration about higher taxes in spite of years of increases in aid, and questions about where new money would go if it could be found.

As we come prepared to listen, so must we also speak.  Here are some of the arguments:

·       Public schools work. Look at the data that shows steadily rising achievement of the standards in school districts of all wealth categories. More children are learning more now than ever before. The state budget in prior years contributed to that success.

·       Gaps remain. While achievement has gone up in the poorest communities, the gains are from too low a starting point. The current result is not nearly good enough. Closing the gaps costs money – money for teachers, buildings, books, technology, libraries, and science labs.

·       Some costs are uncontrollable at the local level. School leaders are deeply disturbed to have brought proposed tax increases and reductions in instructional capacity to the voters because of mandated cost increases in health care, and retirement – issues that are controllable, or at least subject to influence, at the state level.

·       Public schools are accountable already. Some of what I have read about the need for more accountability is unhelpful because it ignores the facts.  New York has an accountability system that is recognized nationally. 

·       The consensus for change in the school funding system is widespread. Who is the champion for the formulas that now exist?

·       An economic imperative demands much higher educational achievement for all. While educators and the Regents work hard to get the testing system just right, the business community fears a truly high stakes test. They know that the states and nations that thrive now and tomorrow will be those in which all citizens are highly skilled.  For that test, the standards go up every day.

·       A nation “cannot be both ignorant and free.” It was well established before the foundation of the Republic that all citizens must have a good education. In our generation, this CFE matter is about renewing that ancient commitment.

The elected leaders of New York can solve this problem. I believe that they want to. Our responsibility is to stay engaged: Advocate without ceasing until our poorest children have what they need.

Special Education Results

At the May Regents meeting we will present new data on the placement and achievement of students with disabilities. While there are some marks of progress, there are many challenges, particularly in the urban districts. These data are part of the educational accountability system. The data represent additional justification for closing the gaps in student achievement and for investing in the Regents state aid proposal. Where and how students with disabilities get an education matters. For that reason we will start with data on placement. The intent is to limit referrals to special education where appropriate, to educate children with their non-disabled peers to a large degree, and in every way possible to enable students to meet the academic standards in preparation for a full and productive life. We will pay particular attention to the achievement data in schools and the graduation rates in higher education among students with disabilities.  The State Education Department has demonstrated in earlier reports that special education and general education are linked: low performance in general education is associated with low performance in special education. The presentation will conclude with discussion of strategies that can close these gaps in achievement.

Engaging Special Education Aid

The Regents state aid proposal for 2004-05 retains special education as a categorical aid but also signaled the intention to engage the question of whether and how to combine special education with general aid in the next proposal. The Subcommittee on State Aid will consider an analysis of special education funding in preparation for hearings in September and a Regents decision on a state aid recommendation in December. The staff paper refers us to the vision for persons with disabilities and the goals used to define the state aid for general education (simplicity, adequacy, sustainability, and so on). These goals should also guide the decision on special education aid. The report presents data to again show the relationships among quality, cost, and achievement in general education and special education. There are seven questions we intend to take to the regional forums and to the Regents to support their deliberations leading to the state aid recommendation. The Regents will want to ensure that these are the right questions to support their decision.

Regents Stewardship for Collections

Regents will hear from John Egan as chair of the expert panel advising the Board and the State Education Department on what we can and must do as stewards of records, artifacts, books, papers, artwork, and other cultural education holdings. We do not have sufficient space in the Record Center or the Rotterdam storage facility.  Existing storage space is already over-filled, and yet more material continues to arrive. Climate controls do not meet current standards for collections, and we lack facilities for research and conservation work involving the collections. The Regents will want to prepare for decisions on a new long-term collections facility. The panel will provide much of that preparation, and in addition, Regents might visit the facilities themselves. After reading many of the materials available to the expert panel, I spent a morning this month in the Record Center and the Rotterdam facility. The need for new facilities to carry out our mandate is obvious to visitors of those buildings.

University Convocation

The Regents will convene the University of the State of New York (USNY) in Convocation at the end of this year. To help us get ready, co-chairs Judith Johnson and Alan Friedman led the first meeting of the Convocation Planning Advisory Committee in April, and they will meet again in June.

Here is a sample of the discussion: The Convocation will be a working summit intended to focus USNY institutions on actions that will close the gaps.  USNY is education in New York. It is an organization committed to building excellence. USNY institutions together create the knowledge and skill essential for New York to prevail in a dynamic economy. The financial basis for educational quality depends entirely upon New York's vitality in that economy.  Regents will receive the notes from the Planning Advisory Committee meeting in the Quality Committee materials.

USNY Technology Council Convenes

The first meeting of the USNY Technology Policy and Practices Council actually relied on technology. Chancellor Bennett, Regents Johnson and Bowman, and I attended from three different locations through video teleconferencing.  We raised some of the same issues that we brought to the recent USNY Convocation Planning Group. We described the capacity of USNY institutions to create the knowledge and skill demanded by a dynamic economy, the institutional self interest in helping support that economy through excellence in education, and our shared determination to close the gaps in achievement and opportunity for all the people of New York.  We pointed to the GIS map that shows the enormous footprint of USNY institutions and then turned to the far more impressive “map” that could be drawn of the technology resources offered by these institutions.

Closing in on the Middle Level Decision

 The Regents made the structure of middle level education a policy issue out of concern for student achievement of the standards. There has been extensive public engagement to enable the Regents to hear all perspectives and to prepare themselves to decide the matter. We are nearing that point of decision.

 Let's review where we have been. Through the EMSC-VESID Committee, the Regents reviewed the 1989 middle level policy, and recognized that much has happened since then, including the standards, new teaching policy, assessments, accountability, and the intense focus on closing the gaps in achievement. The Regents read papers on the essential elements of middle level education, reviewed research on the application of those elements in some schools and the resulting achievement. They heard from experts in New York and from other states.  Several groups wrote thoughtful papers to define the issues and recommend actions.

Regents have had multiple encounters with local educators and other citizens through forums and hearings on middle level. Staff has presented several decision frameworks, including an analysis of the existing regulations and sets of questions bearing on the pending decision. The Regents defined a new policy on middle level, with the proviso that they would revisit that statement if the continuing discussion revealed reasons to do so.

The EMSC-VESID Committee has discussed several draft decision papers. Interested parties have provided abundant commentary to the committee and all members of the Board. Deputy Commissioner Kadamus and I have continually reminded local educators and their representatives about the status of the Regents discussion to encourage field commentary from all perspectives that was on point.

After reflecting on the advice from the many discussions, especially the discussion in the EMSC-VESID Committee, we propose a decision with the following components:

·       Reinforce the importance of the academic core, including English, Social Studies, Science, Mathematics, Art and Music, and Physical Education, and develop suggested model curricula in English and Mathematics.

·       Reduce the instructional time requirements in Technology Education and Home and Career Skills by three-quarters of a unit and emphasize topics of high interest to students such as information technology, technology application, career planning, managing personal finances, parenting, health, nutrition, and diet.

·       Focus the time made available through that adjustment on academic intervention, youth development, and accelerated courses, as is appropriate for individual students.

·       Require all middle level programs to evaluate their learning environments using state guidelines.

·       Redesign the school improvement planning process for middle schools and require low performing schools to use it.

·       Invite 25 middle schools to participate in a “Next Generation Schools” program to design programs without regard to existing time requirements.

A Regents item that expands on these points is before the Board for discussion.


Home Schooling

Since the March Regents discussion on home schooling, staff reviewed comments and correspondence about the draft regulations and will have additional recommendations at the May meeting.  We will also respond to questions the Regents asked.  There are now four pathways to a college degree for home schooled students.  We will propose two more. If these approaches are acceptable to the Regents, we will have regulations for discussion in June, leading to a decision in July.

Closing the Gaps in Student Achievement

 There are now more than a thousand schools on our list of improving schools. The actions of those schools suggest a way to illustrate the strategy for closing the gaps in student achievement. We reflected on what those schools are doing, then Alan Ray wrote the following piece in consultation with all the Deputy Commissioners and other senior staff of the State Education Department:

What is the achievement gap?

It’s the great divide in education along lines of income, race and ethnicity, language, and disability. The education of students “in the gap” has significantly improved in the past few years. But the gap remains large:

·       After 4 years of high school, only 61% of students in poor schools pass the English Regents Exam at 65 vs. 83% in average need schools and 92% in wealthy schools.

·       Only 48% of black and Hispanic students vs. 75% of white students achieve all the standards in elementary school English.

·       Only 57% of students with disabilities pass the English Regents Exam at 55 after 4 years vs. 89% of students without disabilities.

What causes the gap?

·       The median wealthy district spends $2,000 - 3,000 more per student than the median poor district.

·       Children need experienced, well-qualified teachers. Yet one-fifth of teachers in New York City, for example, leave each year, vs. only 11% in average need districts.

·       Over one-fourth of teachers in New York City are teaching outside of their certification area, vs. only 4% in average need districts.

·       Over 70% of students in poor districts are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches (a sign of poverty) vs. fewer than 15% in average and wealthier districts.

How can we close the gap?

·       Closing this gap must begin with the fundamental belief that all children can reach higher standards. It requires that we set high expectations and employ powerful strategies that build on the successful work of schools that are closing the gap.

Here’s what successful schools do (including many high-poverty schools). Does your school do these things?

Leaders are ready to lead.

·       Employ strong leaders who believe all children can learn, set goals, use results, and challenge teachers and students to reach high standards.

·       Employ leaders who bring together teachers and parents to create a broad sense of responsibility for improving achievement. They make sure teachers get the professional development they need, with good classroom materials and a good school library.

Teachers are ready to teach.

·       Hire qualified teachers who teach all children a rich curriculum based on high standards. They are able to teach students with diverse backgrounds and abilities, evaluate student progress, and communicate with parents.

·       To get and keep teachers, work with area colleges, recruit aggressively, and provide mentoring, guidance and professional development geared to a high-quality curriculum, and greater benefits tied to teacher retention.

Students are ready to learn.

·       Children need a healthy, nurturing environment both in and out of school.  To overcome deficiencies faced by children in the gap, work closely with other organizations and agencies to provide better health care, social services, preschool programs, and parent education.

·       Create a high-achieving environment in which students are more likely to behave well. Effectively enforce a strict safety and discipline policy.

·       Use results to evaluate every student, ensure students attend school, and give extra help (tutoring, additional classes, before or after school help) to those who need it.

Resources match needs.

·       Focus resources on instruction. Even then, however, many schools have too few resources. New York needs a major reform of State aid that will result in a fair and equitable level of spending for all districts. Only if we have the will to direct our State resources to the students who need them most will the entire State reap the benefits.  

·       Coordinate with other educational institutions – libraries, colleges, museums, public broadcasting – to give students better access to a good education.

Accountability is focused and transparent.

·       Successful schools know they succeed only to the extent that they get all students to achieve higher standards. They evaluate how each student is performing and provide extra help. They disaggregate test scores to see whether any groups of students are underserved and underachieving. School leaders make results known and discuss and act on new ways to improve achievement, working with all teachers and other school staff.


A monthly publication of the State Education Department

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Last Updated: November 01, 2004