BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
The Meeting in Brief: Urgent follow through on the Summit, A Call to Action, and related elements of the Regents priorities continue to frame the Regents work this month. The Regents will discuss the 2000 and 2001 cohort results and their implications for closing the achievement gap. The EMSC-VESID committee will again discuss high school policy options, and will take up a specific component of high school reform—Career and Technical Education—for a review of current policy. The Regents will adopt their federal agenda and discuss the Executive budget, both of which are arenas for action on the gap. The Quality Committee will discuss the Commissioner’s performance agreement and a renewed version of the 24-Month Policy Calendar, both of which outline action on the gap. The Cultural Education Committee will exercise its trustee function by reviewing major aspects of the state museum and library. The Regents will be asked to approve the appointment of Jean Stevens as Interim Deputy Commissioner, EMSC. The Committee on Higher Education and the Professions will discuss a report on alternative teacher certification.
64 Percent Graduate in Four Years:
Problem and Solution in Brief
That is a shocking number. It is unacceptable. In our large cities, the proportion is even lower. As we will see this month, it is lower still for children with disabilities, for children of color, and for students learning English. The 127 lowest performing high schools as a group graduate, on average, 40 percent of their students after four years.
Facts like these compelled us to hold the USNY Summit. We wanted others to share the urgency we feel. And we wanted to drive action at state, regional and local levels along the lines the Regents have discussed in each of the last several months.
To improve high school results, there are potential actions Regents could take to improve teacher quality, monitoring, effective practice, public engagement and use of data, including creating performance targets. Additional Regents actions could improve achievement for children with disabilities and English language learners. These possibilities are outlined below, and we can discuss them in detail at the Regents meeting.
This month, we will publish graduation rates for every high school in New York. Confronting the facts will convince most people that the gap is not some distant condition affecting others, but something right in our town. And that is the beginning of the next chapter in the campaign to raise achievement.
Who are the 36 percent of the 9th graders of 2001 who should have graduated after four years but did not? They were 4th graders in 1995 and 1996 before the Regents adopted the standards. They did not receive the benefits of the standards in elementary school. Few of them attended pre-Kindergarten. Their teachers were not required to meet the new Regents standards for teaching passed in 1998 and 1999; many in the lowest performing schools had teachers with temporary licenses, a practice ended last year. Most of them were in school districts that did not benefit from an equitable state aid distribution. The children we speak of were in the 8th grade in 2000, just after the higher standards tests began. In that year, 25 percent statewide scored at level 1 in mathematics; 44 percent of New York City 8th graders were at level 1. We have in the past examined data that indicated the low probability of passing the Regents exam from a level 1 start in 8th grade. Many of them probably repeated 9th grade. In the districts many of the students attended, a third or more did not even take the Regents exams because they had not passed their courses.
We have visited many of the low performing high schools and seen teachers and administrators try hard to improve outcomes for children in this group. It is for those children especially that the Regents required Academic Intervention, 55 as a low pass option, and the special education safety net. In many cases, their schools were under registration review and all the improvement efforts that this entails. But we must do much more.
Is anything working? Yes, there is a lot that’s working. We must keep both the failures and the successes in the same conversation at all times for several reasons. The recent gains promise better performance in the near future, and teachers, parents, and the public need to see the successes to keep going. Later classes, for example, showed higher performance in elementary grades and in middle school mathematics. Fewer students in the later classes repeated 9th grade. Kati Haycock said at the Summit that NAEP results show New York is #2 and #3 among all the states in narrowing the reading gap for Latino and African-American students respectively. Our own exams show similar gains. More students are graduating, a higher proportion of them with a Regents diploma. New York leads the nation in the proportion with qualifying scores on AP exams and in the proportion taking SAT exams.
Pointing to both the gains and the remaining gaps is essential to the case we make in the budget advocacy for state aid. The gains and the remaining gap together justify both the $1.5 billion requested by the Regents, and their proposed Foundation approach to aid distribution. New York invested $7 billion more in state aid in the last decade, and that contributed to the improvements. However, in constant dollars this amounted to about $2 billion more over a decade, or an average 1.7 percent over the rate of inflation each year. That was a significant enhancement of capacity. And yet the state aid distribution and capacity enhancement did not follow the need.
All societies have a mix of successes and failures in their education systems, but we will be measured on how we build on the one and greatly reduce the other.
The Summit correctly framed the challenge: raise achievement overall and close the gap while in the presence of formidable global competitors racing to accomplish the same goals. The six USNY aims are the right ones, and USNY itself is an instrument for the work ahead. We must communicate the problem urgently, and build state, regional and local networks to do the work. And we must change policy and practice at three points: early education, high school, and higher education. The Board has, in fact, adopted policy in early education and higher education and pursues high school reforms urgently.
The gap, especially the gap in graduation, and the gains, mostly in elementary and middle school, demand additional action, and it is critical that we take decisive action this year:
Regents action to improve high schools, particularly urban high schools, can build upon policy already established by the Board, including higher standards, assessments and accountability, course requirements for graduation, a governance system with a pre-K through 16 reach, teacher standards and improvements in teacher education, and the Foundation proposal to resolve the state aid problem. That policy framework is strong but not sufficient. For the last year we have convened leaders from 12 districts and 127 schools to pursue a short list of practical actions to raise graduation rates. This work is called Destination Diploma. That, too, is a sound approach, but not sufficient. Here, again, are the seven additional actions that can advance the Regents work on high schools.
Set targets and measure results. The Regents can direct that the 127 high schools set targets for graduation and attendance and describe what they must 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 can 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 improvements. In the case of New York City, the meeting would be with the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. The responses may lead the Regents to take more action or define new policy.
Check teacher qualifications and order changes where necessary. By a date certain, direct that each of the 127 schools will have all teachers certified in the subjects they are teaching, with particular attention to the subjects required for graduation. Monitor to ensure compliance.
Strengthen teaching. Faculties and administrators in high performing schools conduct continuous professional development focused on proven curricula and practice 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 will require schools to provide such 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 will require immediate corrective action and evidence of follow-through.
Here are three 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.
Engage the students. What do the students say? We haven’t asked them in a systematic way in New York, but earlier national surveys report that students want higher standards, something done about disruptive students, and teachers who treat them with respect. Technology adds another element to consider in the design of high schools. The co-chairs of the USNY Council on Technology Policy and Practice observe that many children live in parallel learning environments: the traditional one found in most schools and the digital learning environment outside.
Support the highest performers. The proposals just outlined are for 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.
In addition to actions needed to improve results in high schools overall, the 2001 cohort data prompt us to consider actions to improve results for children with disabilities and students who are English language learners. Here are some suggestions for Regents action, which we can describe more fully at the Regents meeting.
· Produce accurate and timely data, set targets for improved outcomes, and increase public awareness of results to leverage change.
· Refocus monitoring to hold schools accountable for improving instructional practice.
· Focus technical assistance networks through increased accountability for student performance.
· Increase the supply of qualified special education teachers and other staff.
· Expand high quality in-state special education options for students with the most severe disabilities.
Actions to Improve Results for English Language Learners:
The Organizational Framework:
The Commissioner’s proposed performance agreement and the 24-month policy calendar (see below) includes commitments to refine measures of the gap, evaluate current gap-closing strategies against current best practice, and create new delivery systems and innovations to accelerate gap closing.
We have partnership agreements with the Big Four school districts, which define what local and state partners will do about leadership, teaching, curriculum, professional development, and other essentials. Three of the Big Four have new superintendents and these agreements need renewal. We are in ongoing discussions with New York City leaders, including Chancellor Klein and his colleagues. The SURR process continues to support school improvement. In addition, 127 high schools with the lowest graduation rates are in an intense, continuing development effort with us called Destination Diploma. Teams from each of the schools worked together in three two-day sessions last year on a short list of promising practices. The district superintendents have created networks to support school improvement, and the School Support Centers are working in the urban school systems. We will again examine how these structures work to improve results, and make changes where necessary. The Regents may want to meet with the leaders of the Big Five school districts one by one to strengthen the joint work on closing the gap.
Policy Review of Career and Technical Education
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is part of the high school reform and one of the specific strategies being pursued in the Destination Diploma work. The Regents will discuss a second report on the independent evaluation of CTE policy implementation from MAGI Educational Services. Also included is a NYC profile. Here are some findings:
Recommendations are summarized in the Regents item. The most significant recommendations include:
Renewed 24-month Policy Calendar
The Quality Committee will discuss a renewal of the 24-month calendar. The purpose is to schedule the policy decisions and policy reviews so that there is sufficient time for the Board to define the problems, evaluate options, seek public comment, review research, and make effective decisions. It promotes efficient use of Regents time. The calendar also benefits the public and educational and cultural institutions because they have sufficient time to engage the Board and present their views. The renewed 24-month calendar in concert with the performance agreement will coordinate the work of the Board and Commissioner.
The Quality Committee will discuss a proposed Commissioner’s performance agreement and will recommend action to the Full Board. The proposed agreement reflects discussions between the Chancellor, the chair of the Quality Committee, and me. It incorporates the topics the Regents agreed to in January during our annual performance review.
The proposed agreement says the Commissioner will concentrate on raising achievement and accelerating gap closing throughout the PreK-16 system. I will concentrate on three means to achieve that end:
Each of the three approaches is clearly defined by a stated focus, many specific actions and a list of measures, which we will use together to monitor results periodically with formal reviews every six months. This agreement would be in effect during 2006 and 2007. I will use the performance agreement to concentrate my time and that of the Deputy Commissioners on the work of highest priority to the Regents.
The Regents have an analysis of the Executive budget. The Deputy Commissioners and I have testified on the Regents budget recommendations for over four hours in two sessions of the joint finance committees. We have begun continuous advocacy with leaders, committee chairs, and individual members. Here are some major points:
Regents Federal Agenda
The Regents will consider for approval a revised draft statement of their priorities for federal legislation. The draft reflects Regents policy priorities and the aims developed at the Education Summit. It contains several new items the Regents asked to have included. This USNY oriented document underscores the connections among federal, state and local financial commitments. The 109th Congress will take up reauthorization debates that mirror many of the Regents policy discussions and prior decisions. No Child Left Behind reauthorization is scheduled for the 110th Congress but important preparations will begin this year. Workforce Investment Act reauthorization is important to the Regents work on closing the gap and developing the vocational rehabilitation system of the future. Congress made changes to the Higher Education Act student loan programs in the federal fiscal year 2006 budget reconciliation act; the program elements remain to be reauthorized. Congress continues to negotiate reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, which could affect library records. The Regents policy discussion on early education will have a federal counterpart in the Head Start reauthorization. Regents interest in the congressional debates on cultural education will focus on continuation of federal funding.
The Regents decision on their federal legislation agenda will frame our advocacy during the 109th Congress, both in New York and especially in Washington, DC. We will share it with members of the Congress, congressional staff, and the many interested groups.
Cultural Education Trusteeship
The Regents are trustees of the collections in the State Museum, State Library, and State Archives. The Cultural Education Committee meeting this month will act on that responsibility on behalf of the Full Board. The focus this month will be two-fold: 1) the current use of information technology to conserve and make available the collections, and a three-year blueprint to improve in this area; and 2) the initiative to renew the State Museum and construct a collection research facility.
The State cultural institutions have created an array of demonstrations, pilots, and small systems to test ways to extend our use of technology. It’s time to decide how we will invest in the most promising of these efforts. Deputy Commissioner Carole Huxley and her colleagues have provided a CD that enables the Board to see what our quality competitors around the nation are doing. This is benchmarking of the kind we promised in the SED of the Future initiative. In this case, we can see that the State cultural institutions are on the right path but far behind the pathfinders.
To put this in context, we might reflect on the discussions about renewing the collections facilities and the museum exhibits a few years ago. The Board and the State Education Department studied what we had in relation to our growing needs, and also looked at the highest performing institutions around the nation. The result was the Regents plans for the new records retention center and the renewal of the exhibits. And now those concepts appear in the Executive Budget for a Cultural Education trust fund. The work we are doing now in the use of technology to access the collections is on the same course. We might envision it as the virtual version of what we did earlier with the facilities. Both are indispensable to the future of the cultural institutions under the direct care of the Regents.
The Committee on Higher Education and the Professions will discuss the annual report on alternative teacher certification programs. Alternative teacher certification programs exist in 24 colleges and universities. This partnership between schools and higher education is yet another example of USNY in action. The monitoring report shows that more than 8800 teachers have entered the profession through this path since 2001. One-year retention appears high, and improving retention has been a focus for both program leaders and local educators. The report tracks the fluctuating retention rates since Fall 2000. A significant proportion of the Teaching Fellows have been prepared for subjects where there are shortages. The report also presents data about placements. For example, 39 percent of 2004 Teaching Fellows are in Schools in Need of Improvement. The report provides a foundation for the Regents ongoing review of one element of their policy on teacher preparation.
The Regents will discuss draft regulations for school leadership certificates. We recently implemented the new Regents requirement that future leaders complete approved higher education programs focused on what leaders must know and be able to apply. The first cohort will graduate this spring. The proposed amendments to strengthen the certification requirements include: the experience requirement, professional development, alternative pathways for exceptionally qualified candidates, and assessment. The Regents will need to decide how to respond to feedback from the field related to the proposed assessment for school leaders.
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