BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Meeting in Brief: The Regents will conduct their annual evaluation of the Commissioner in executive session. The Full Board will discuss their advocacy for Regents policy and budget recommendations on making higher education more accessible for persons with disabilities. The EMSC-VESID committee will discuss the proposed design for the Vocational Rehabilitation system, pending a policy decision scheduled for March 2006. That committee will discuss data from 127 high schools with low graduation rates. The Regents will review an early childhood policy document to reflect comments from the field and Board members in November. Board action is scheduled for January. The Regents may also decide the implementation schedule for the new Math Regents exams. The Cultural Education Committee will continue to discuss the Regents trusteeship responsibilities for the State Museum, State Library, and State Archives. The Quality Committee will provide for necessary time for the Regents to review their role as trustees of the USNY. The Regents will review and act on charter school applications.
Leaders from all sectors of the University of the State of New York (USNY) convened on November 2 for the Education Summit. Here is the consensus from the table discussions:
The Chancellor asked that a strategy to guide that follow through be presented at the December Regents meeting. Therefore, the Regents will discuss A Call to Action, which reflects the work of the Summit, the Regents priorities, and the Regents expectation for urgency.
A Call to Action presents a communication plan; a structure for state, regional and local action; and guidance for both policy and practice in early education, high school, and higher education. The material on policy and practice builds upon on-going Regents policy discussions. To achieve urgency, the paper points to the most immediate, high-leverage actions.
The Summit mobilized USNY and focused attention on the two-fold problem of the achievement gap and the imperative to raise achievement overall. Nevertheless, continuous communication to the educational community and the public are essential, and it needs to answer this question: Why is this my problem?
The Summit speakers and the data they presented created urgency and momentum. We must act now to put that momentum to work. On issues of improving practice, we turn immediately to regional and local leaders.
Only the Regents can decide the policy questions, and policy making has to be deliberate. Nevertheless, the Regents are close to completing their work on early education and they already adopted the Statewide Plan for Higher Education. The following section in this report responds to the Regents debate on high school in November.
“The traditional high school model is rigid, obsolete, and needs large-scale redesign.” So reads one conclusion for the USNY Summit in November. At the National Governor’s Association High School Summit earlier this year, Bill Gates said simply, “The American high school is obsolete.” To grasp that something is wrong we need only look at our results in New York, where 67 percent graduate in four years. While the problem has deep roots, as we see in the 15 percent who repeat ninth grade, those who cannot read well by the 4th grade and those who don’t have pre-kindergarten, what about high school itself?
This month the EMSC-VESID Committee will discuss data that describe the 127 high schools with graduation rates below 70 percent. The schools represent 12 school districts. We will use these data to monitor progress.
Regents demand urgent improvement in high school performance. The proposals that follow suggest how to do that. But first, let’s consider that the Board has already enacted as policy many elements recommended in the national discussion about high school. Those include higher standards, assessments, accountability, course requirements for graduation, a governance system with a pre-K through 16 reach, teacher standards and improvements in teacher education, and proposals for adequate state aid designed to close the gaps in opportunity.
In addition, the new data capability enabled us to concentrate on the schools with graduation rates below 70 percent, and to establish an on-going capacity building with teams from those schools. That work has concentrated on a short list of practices with a high probability of success. What can we add to this mix to build urgency?
Set targets and measure results. The Regents can direct that the 127 high schools set targets for graduation and attendance and describe what they will have to do to meet them. The Regents would accept these targets or require other targets. The school boards would report results to the Regents annually. The Regents would define consequences for school boards that do not make reasonable progress.
Make local school boards accountable for high school performance. The Regents could require reports from school boards on results in the 127 high schools, and meet with the presidents and vice presidents of those boards to hear what they will do to gain further improvements. In the case of New York City, the meeting would be with the Chancellor of New York City. The responses may lead the Regents to define new policy.
Check teacher qualifications and order changes where necessary. The school boards responsible for the 127 schools would report the proportion of teachers who are certified in the subjects they are teaching, with particular attention to the subjects required for high school graduation. Regents could require necessary improvements.
Strengthen teaching. Faculties and administrators in high performing schools often conduct continuous professional development focused on proven curricula and lesson plans with opportunities for colleagues to further develop subject matter knowledge. If the Commissioner determines that this is necessary in any of the 127 schools, he could provide modest financial support and require schools to provide professional support.
Ensure safety. The Commissioner would review safety plans for the 127 schools and the data about incidents, including suspensions. Where necessary, the Commissioner would require immediate corrective action and evidence of follow through.
Here are two other actions that would provide information essential to new policy on high schools:
Engage the public. Using expert help, engage the public in these school communities to build a willingness to change the school for higher achievement. Many of the changes that will be needed to produce dramatically better results are likely to seem “not high school” to parents and other members of the public. The public owns the high schools, knows what they are supposed to look like, and will withhold support unless we engage and listen.
Meet the students. What do the students say? We haven’t asked them in a systematic way in New York, but the Public Agenda report called Getting By: What American Teenagers Really Think About Their Schools reported that 65 percent of students surveyed said they could do better if they tried. They wanted higher standards, something done about disruptive students, and teachers who treated them with respect.
One student said, “You can just glide through…I mean you can do whatever you want…” That report was written in 1997. Unfortunately, it’s all too current. A student at the 2005 Regents Education Summit said almost the same words. In addition to all the other things we will do to improve high schools, let’s hear from the students in a systematic way. And let’s let the people of New York in on that conversation.
What about the highest performers? These proposals are about some of the lowest performing high schools. What about the highest performers? Our global competition pays particular attention to the most proficient students. Higher education and business leaders who think about preserving our lead in innovation also think about our top students. We should recognize the highest performing schools, meet their students and teachers, encourage their continued reaching for still higher achievement, and we should make manifest what they do.
As we embark on change, what keeps high school the way it is? Everyone knows what it’s supposed to look like. Bad as high school can be for some students, it works for many. We are not alone in confronting this problem. A Chinese education leader called high school reform in his country the “last resort.” I understood that to mean that although many recognized the problems with the hyper-competitiveness and a narrow curriculum, the system works for those who survive it. A principal in a high performing Chinese high school, who would prefer a broader curriculum, said it was unlikely since parents and students demanded even more mathematics, chemistry and physics, because that is the established path to a top university. In New York, we too must understand the barriers to changing this resilient institution called high school.
Nearly half of New York high school graduates with disabilities plan to attend college. While the number of persons with disabilities attending college has increased by 52 percent in a dozen years, only about half of New York colleges enroll more than 60 persons with disabilities. The Regents, the Department and the four sectors of higher education have proposed incentives to help other colleges expand that opportunity.
All four higher education sectors first joined us in this strategy in 2000. In retrospect, it almost seems a precursor of the joint venture that culminated this year in the Statewide Plan for Higher Education. That plan includes higher education’s response to the Regents priority for access and success for students with disabilities.
The Full Board will discuss this issue in the context of preparing to advocate for this policy, and for the $15 million budget recommendation that can bring it to life. Actions include a coordinated advocacy for legislation, changes in TAP to support services for persons with disabilities, and changes in the Higher Education Act.
There is strong support among teachers for rapid implementation of the new Integrated Algebra Examination, but major gaps in knowledge of the revised standards, curriculum alignment, and professional development. These are among the findings of an SED survey of teachers.
This new information will help the EMSC-VESID Committee evaluate the options for when to begin the new examination. As of this writing, 56 percent of respondents said that their curricula were not well aligned with the standards, and 82 percent said professional development had not been created. These and other findings suggest it will be hard to get accurate field test results and that a low level of preparedness among teachers could damage the program if we move too quickly.
The Regents will consider a range of issues in making the scheduling decision, and these data are only part of the picture. Nevertheless, whatever schedule we adopt will have to ensure readiness in the schools. If we were to go forward without that readiness, the predictable result will be lower than expected performance on the examination and pressures to change the test. The issue now is not the test but the level of preparation in the schools.
The EMSC-VESID Committee continues its discussion of a draft policy on early education, with an anticipated decision in January. The current draft reflects the recent discussions with many people who are interested in the issue.
A major strength of the proposal is that it is comprehensive and systematic. The components of the proposal are not unrelated good ideas but rather a structure of interlocking parts. That said, a few of the components offer particularly strong leverage for change. Among them are: statewide pre-kindergarten, age 5 as the compulsory school age, full-day kindergarten, professional preparation, and USNY. While many people will focus on the cost of early education, as they should, professional preparation is likely to be the greatest long-term determinant of success. We need well prepared professionals in abundance for the policy to work. When New Jersey made a major commitment to expand early education a few years ago, the involvement of higher education in the rapid expansion of teacher preparation was especially important.
VESID has produced a design for a renewed vocational rehabilitation (VR) system that responds to the global economic challenge, expands capacity, and helps realize the potential of USNY. It is a particularly thoughtful example of the emerging State Education Department of the future.
The EMSC-VESID Committee will discuss this design in preparation for a March Full Board policy decision that will lead immediately to implementation.
The Regents have espoused a compelling vision about the independence of persons with disabilities and with the State Education Department, they have pursued strategies to bring that vision to life in pre-kindergarten, state aid systems, teacher policy, regional facilities planning, access to the regular curriculum in school, advocacy for Independent Living Centers, and higher education access. Approximately 300,000 New Yorkers of working age have a disability but no job. Having a job is part of independence for most people. New York has not yet made significant inroads into the employment of persons with disabilities.
The VESID design for a renewed vocational rehabilitation system promises a much higher level of achievement. Among the many attractive features are:
· Rapid access to services
· Transition services from school to employment
· Enhanced collaboration with other public agencies
· Expanded one-stop access for consumers
· Linkage with the Workforce Investment Board system
· Electronic records
· More efficient use of the critical skills of VR counselors though a team concept
· Better milestones to assess system performance
· Comprehensive marketing
This design responds to Regents priorities and public needs at many levels, and it merits support leading to rapid implementation.
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