December 2004
Report to the State Board of Regents

The Meeting in Brief: The Regents will decide what to recommend to the Executive and Legislature for State Aid to Education, and will vote on their federal legislative priorities. The Board also has before it for adoption the draft annual report on charter schools and the annual regulatory agenda. The Regents will continue their review of assessments with two items: an analysis of Regents pass rates for the cohorts of 1997 through 2000, and a report on career and technical education. The Board will discuss a report on State Education Department staffing. The Regents will continue discussion of the middle level proposal and the Statewide Plan for Higher Education, which now includes initiatives from all four sectors of higher education. The Regents will conduct their annual evaluation of the Commissioner. The meeting will conclude with the semi-annual policy retreat, during which the Regents will discuss priorities, Board operations, renewal of the strategic plan, and the 2005 performance agreement with the Commissioner.


The Once and Future Department of Education


The State Education Department is an instrument of policy. The policies that define our work appear in state and federal law, in regulations and other statements adopted by the Regents.  As a result of those decisions by policy makers, our aims reflect the fundamental aims of education in America: to educate all for citizenship, work, and competent, caring adulthood. In contrast to education departments in all other states, the New York State Education Department's scope of work spans pre-K through 16, vocational rehabilitation, libraries, museums, archives, public broadcasting, all sectors of higher education, and the professions. This combined capacity is a strategic advantage for New York, as all states and nations try to maximize the contribution of education to economic and civic vitality. And as Commissioner Andrew Draper said at the dedication of the State Education Building in 1912, in all of these fields the task is about setting, maintaining, and defending standards.


We must think strategically about our capacity to execute policy. More than 3,000 people do the work of the State Education Department. Half of them can retire within five years. This month, the Regents will discuss a report on department staffing, which Terry Savo and Gayle Bowden prepared. This discussion is related to other essential work of Regents and the Commissioner, including planning for the Department of the future, renewal of our strategic plan, and the Regents continuing commitment to raise achievement and close the gap.


Overall staffing declined from 1997 to 2004, although some units declined at a much greater rate than others did, while some units grew. In some cases those increases and decreases reflect deliberate policy choices in the face of resource limits. In other cases, the changes just happened through attrition. Given our changing work and resource limits, we must be more intentional.


Since 1997, we have become an organization with fewer administrators and support staff, but more professionals. One contributing factor to this pattern may be the introduction of 1500 desktop computers in 1997. Our rapid conversion to technology for communication and basic transactions will also shape future staffing patterns. Over 40 percent took part in staff development this year. The staff has become more diverse, but not at a rate that satisfies Regents goals. We also found big declines in experience levels in many units as people have retired.


What this report does not show is the new work added since 1997, and that can be the subject of additional study.  But we can think about our work in new ways. For example, when asked to summarize what the Department does in global terms, Rebecca Kennard produced this list:


1.   Standard setting

2.   Assessment and testing

3.   Data collection, analysis and reporting

4.   Policy development and advocacy

5.   Funds management, including distribution and auditing.

6.   Professional development

7.   Quality assurance, monitoring and enforcement

8.   Research and knowledge creation

9.   Partnership and contractor management


Each of us might add other topics, such as leadership and licensing, but the power of the list is in its brevity. These are crosscutting categories. Assessment, for example, includes a lot more than Regents exams. It includes more than 50 professional exams and about 100 teacher exams. Research includes what the state aid work group does, and also the vast research output of the State Museum. When we think about our work this broadly, we break through the silos and ask new questions: How can we become the best in the nation at standard setting, assessment, funds management, and so on?  How can we create better tools to do this work?  How should we refine our training?  How will we realize efficiencies in the workflow?


We invited all members of the State Education Department to think about this staffing report because we need their ideas and commitment to prepare the organization of the future. Deputy Commissioners reviewed the data earlier this fall. I shared the report with all managers in late November, and all staff this month. The all staff meeting to talk about this report is scheduled for December 9.


The discussion with Deputy Commissioners produced these insights: It's time to become more strategic in our approach to staffing. We will invite all staff into the discussion. We will envision the mix of skills needed for the future, and reshape our recruiting and training accordingly. We will reshape a work culture that resists changes in job duties and foster a more nimble work culture. We see many outstanding people here who are seizing every training opportunity, and we will offer them opportunities to keep them in the organization. Consistent with Regents goals, we will make decisions about the configuration of the Department for the future.  We believe it is possible to define what a future version of this staffing report should look like, and then make the management decisions to bring that vision to life.


The Regents have the critical strategic role here. The Board's responsibility is to consider needs and resources and then decide as a matter of policy what results are the highest priorities. My task, and that of the Deputy Commissioners, will be to present budget recommendations and make the staffing choices that implement those Regents policies.


Key question: What results are of the highest priority?


Library Leadership


       Leaders cannot refer too often to the aims of education: to educate all for citizenship, for work, for adult responsibility. Libraries are indispensable to achieving those aims. There cannot be a college without a library. A school is unfinished without a library. A community is impoverished without a library.


       Libraries are where you go to learn English, prepare for a job interview, get on the Internet if you can’t afford a computer, and read up on your competition while developing a business plan. Libraries are engines of economic development. Who wants to live where there aren’t good schools and good libraries?


       The Regents insist that all children read 25 books a year. Libraries have those books. Libraries keep learning alive for children during the summer. More than a million attended reading programs last summer. Libraries are part of the turn-around strategy for low performing schools, as the court recognized in the CFE matter.


At the December meeting Abby Milstein, co-chair of the Regents Commission on Libraries, will report on the status of New Century Libraries and discuss with the Regents the work that is still to be accomplished.


Key question: What will we do next to lead New York to invest in libraries?


Annual Report on Charter Schools


The law requires the Regents to report annually to the Executive and Legislative leaders on the status of charter schools. The Regents will discuss a draft of that report and may vote to adopt that draft. The draft includes all required information and also the same recommendations for revisions in the law that were included in the December 2003 report.


Key question: Do the Regents want to amend the draft or adopt it as proposed?


Middle Level


The Regents have before them a revised middle level proposal that responds to comments on earlier drafts. This proposal includes the design principles and the three models discussed previously, and replaces the controversial sign-off requirements in the October draft with a shared decision making process long used in Commissioner's regulations. The Department would be authorized to approve 50 applications under Model C.  This proposal reflects the deliberations in the EMSC-VESID committee and would resolve the middle level policy problem as summarized in the June issue of Commissioner's Report to the Board of Regents.


Transition to High School


As the Regents complete their work on middle level policy, attention inevitably will turn to high school.  The developing national discussion about high school embraces high stakes tests for graduation but new organizational and curricular approaches to get all students to that standard. Department staff members have participated in that discussion through regional and national meetings.  Their views are respected at those meetings because of the foundations already built in Regents policy on standards, graduation requirements, Career and Technical Education, accountability, among other foundation stones.


What defines high school today?  History and tradition, youth culture, existing teacher certification categories, curriculum, sports, and alumni expectations are all part of the answer to that question. There is a growing call for change, however, and it comes from many sources, including employers, higher education, and the students themselves.  This fall and into the coming winter, the Regents are considering data on graduation, dropouts, persistence to graduation in college, and employment and other elements of what could become a powerful statement of the high school challenge. It’s time to transition to high school as a policy issue.


State Aid to School Districts


The three referees in the CFE matter have reported their findings and recommendations to the court about New York City only, as the scope of the case required.  In due course the court will issue a decision. Efforts to reach a settlement will likely continue. Meanwhile, the Regents must decide on their recommendation for state aid for the coming year as they always do in December.


       The Regents recommendation has particular importance this year, because they will probably issue the first comprehensive statement about State aid needs in the interval after the referees’ report. The Board’s approach could help shape a productive state aid debate. And it needs to be productive. Resolution of the state aid problem on a statewide basis is vital to New York’s future. The biggest missing element in the strategy to close the gap is a fair, adequate, sustainable state aid system. A struggle that is further prolonged will distract from the work of raising achievement while our economic competitors around the globe and around the nation execute their own education strategies.


       The context for the Regents deliberations includes the report of the referees, the New York economy, and the Regents campaign to raise achievement of all children to the level defined by 65 on the exams.


The Regents will want to reflect on those elements of their conceptual proposal that vary from the referees’ recommendation, including local share, the length of the phase-in, and the calculation of the regional cost index and efficiency factor. The Board repeatedly said it would advance the best proposal it could and listen to others and modify that proposal if others had better ideas.


While the executive and legislative branches will address overall cost issues, the Regents are also aware of New York’s financial position. The executive branch estimates a $6 billion structural deficit in the 2005-06 budget before consideration of CFE, or the Health Care Reform Act costs, or the Transportation Plan. The State Comptroller’s reports on upstate cities describe structural deficits, and loss of populations and jobs in the long-term economic picture.


       The other part of the context is the Regents commitment to educate all to high standards. While the court had to deliberate only about New York City, the Regents recommendation must and always has considered the needs of all the children in relation to the standards. Whatever the resolution is, the public will face a big state aid number. Therefore we must convince the people that results will be dramatically better for the children and the economy. It is up to us to convince the public that a New York high school diploma will signify a person who is ready for the burdens of citizenship, ready for work and further education, and ready for adult responsibility.  They must see something tangible and valuable to them that justifies the cost.


       The proposal before the Board is consistent with the recommendation first introduced in 2003, and with the Regents statements as friend of the court in CFE. Prior to the meeting the Regents will receive an addendum to this item that includes the recommended dollar amount for state aid.


Key questions: Will the Regents adjust their conceptual proposal in relation to the referees’ report? What amount will the Regents recommend for State Education Aid on a statewide basis? What phase-in period will the Regents recommend?


Federal Legislative Agenda


       This month the final draft of the Regents Federal Legislative Agenda is before the Board for approval.  This final draft was revised based on comments and recommendations received from stakeholder groups and also recent action by Congress.


       The document has a new format and the text and length have been streamlined, in accordance with the Regents request.


Recommendation:  That the Regents approve the final draft of the Federal Legislative Agenda and direct the Commissioner to prepare advocacy strategies for the Board.


Regulatory Agenda – Winning Compliance


The State Administrative Procedure Act requires the State Education Department to publish a regulatory agenda and a review of existing rules. This is a double opportunity for the Regents. The Board has a 24-month policy calendar that includes the Regents plans to adopt policy and review existing policies.  The Board’s approach anticipates the Act. In addition, the Regents have in the past considered ways to achieve greater regulatory compliance within resource limitations. A few years ago the Regents read about a “winning compliance” strategy, and talked with a leading scholar on that concept. We could simply meet the requirements of the State Administrative Procedure Act by publishing the list or the Board could ask the committees to use winning compliance concepts as they consider regulations.


Winning compliance is based on the idea that most people want to do the right thing if it is reasonable, if compliance has positive consequences, and if willing compliers are treated differently from willful non-compliers.[1] There are many other associated ideas, including publishing lists of non-compliers, providing real help to comply, and creating heavy consequences for non-compliance. Winning compliance usually includes performance-based regulations.


We have used these approaches to some degree in the past. For example, Cultural Education does not use a heavy hand in regulation but has led museums, historical societies and archives to significant improvements in relation to standards by working with those institutions that want to improve. And they have not hesitated to land heavily on the few institutions that took or contemplated actions that violate accepted professional norms. The Regents and the Department used similar approaches to gain compliance with reasonable standards in teacher licensing and professional regulation.


The new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides another powerful incentive to win compliance. IDEA embraces the Regents insistence on better outcomes for children with disabilities. It is not about compliance with a thousand details but a demand that children with disabilities experience a free appropriate public education that produces literacy and other meaningful results. In the coming year the Regents will make several policy choices to implement IDEA, just as they did with No Child Left Behind. While other states may struggle to get to the basics, your early support for New York’s shift to a focus on outcomes now gives us a strategic advantage. Imaginative work on the regulatory agenda will further develop that advantage.


Key question: Will the Regents direct the Commissioner to prepare all future regulations from a “winning compliance” perspective where possible?


Career and Technical Education Policy Review


The Regents Career and Technical Education policy is three years old but already there are 705 approved programs. The Regents will discuss an external evaluation of Career and Technical Education this month. EMSC staff supplemented the evaluation with information about graduate placements and performance on Regents exams, courses, and industry defined technical exams. These early results are promising, particularly in comparison with non-CTE vocational programs.


Both the external evaluation and the Department’s paper outline actions the Regents might take next. One important finding is that 80 percent of school districts chose not to participate and resources were frequently cited as the obstacle. Those districts may also be uncertain about the benefits of the program, according to the Department. A good next step would be to examine in detail the non-participating school districts to understand the obstacles and create strategies to remove them.


Key question: Will the Regents accept the recommendations to expand the adoption of Career and Technical Education in New York schools?


Evaluating Testing Policy and Getting to 65


The EMSC-VESID Committee continues the Board's rigorous review of assessment this month by using data on the performance of students in the 1996-2000 cohorts.


The data show an increase in the number of graduates since the Regents put the standards in place.  Students who took all five exams and graduated in four years scored above 65 in high proportions. Relatively few students took only four exams rather than five. Dropouts, for the most part, didn’t fail Regents exams. They didn’t take them. There are still significant numbers of students still enrolled after four years.


The data will enable the Regents to evaluate interesting options to raise graduation requirements with appropriate flexibility and without making expectations for students unrealistic.


For example, if the Board were to require an average score of 65 or higher on five exams, with at least four scores above 65 and all scores above 55, a large proportion of the 2000 cohort would have met the requirement in four years of high school. And there are other ways to get to 65 in more than one step. Where students scored below 55 on only one exam, mathematics was the most common problem.


The many improving schools have blazed the path to success with that problem. They helped students with math coaches, more intensive mathematics instruction, curriculum aligned with the standards, and teacher professional development. Bay Shore, for example, developed a team of teachers and retired teachers to saturate class after class with intensive small group problem solving sessions over a period of weeks. I watched one.  It was exciting.


The foregoing analysis followed from one of five questions that framed the Board's review of assessment. Another question about averaging course grades and Regents exams to meet state graduation requirements would go in a less promising direction. Grade inflation is a recognized phenomenon in high school and higher education. Local standards vary. The Education Trust has reported that work that draws an A in many low performing schools merits only a C in high performing schools. Regents exams, in contrast, represent a common measurement of achievement. While classroom exams and other course requirements are known to few beyond the classroom in most cases, the Regents exams are subject to universal public and professional scrutiny.


The existing graduation requirements require 22 credits that are assessed locally and five Regents exams that are scored against common standards. There has long been a line between these two approaches. To combine them would cross the line, and introduce subjectivity into the Regents exams.


Any teacher or former teacher would anticipate yet another consequence of such a change. If we were to average course grades and Regents exams for state graduation requirements, intense pressure to lower standards would fall on every teacher: "Just give him five more points so he can graduate.” We shouldn't pass that pressure on to the teachers when it is ours to bear.


Statewide Plan for Higher Education


       The Regents now have a combined draft of the Statewide Plan for Higher Education that contains the plans of all four sectors of higher education. Each sector has responded to the Regents priorities.  Last month, the Board decided to schedule two hearings on the combined statewide plan. Interested parties can speak to any sector’s part of the plan, but the Regents focus can be on the whole. Over the next couple of months we expect to have performance data for Higher Education, a draft summary of the statewide plan and a proposed strategy to advocate for higher education.

[1] David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson, The Price of Government, Basic Books, 2004, pp. 214-223.


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Last Updated: December 21, 2004