BY STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER RICHARD P. MILLS
Meeting in Brief: The Regents will meet as a full Board to complete both a regular agenda and the annual retreat. The Board will discuss the annual charter school report, a report on progress with the Student Data Repository, and the Regents draft legislative and budget proposals for 2007-08. The Regents will act on regulations for new clinical professions. The Board will also discuss reports on staffing capacity and workplace diversity in the State Education Department. The Regents will discuss a brief report on the calculation of foundation cost, which is another step toward the state aid proposal.
Confronting the Greatest Challenges
The academic year has concluded, summer school is open across New York, and boards of education and cultural institutions find a brief time to reflect on how far they have come and on what’s ahead. The Regents will also do that in July.
The USNY Summit defined the two-part challenge of raising achievement and closing the gaps along lines of race, income, and disability that are evident at every level of our education system from early education to graduate school. With our USNY partners, we resolved to engage that challenge with a growing awareness of the global stakes as literally millions in other nations entered the economy and gained the skills to prevail in it.
We agreed to pursue certain aims that are easily described but profoundly difficult to achieve. We also embraced three strategies: communicate the challenge in its global context, build regional networks to improve achievement, and take action on three points of opportunity. Those are early education expansion, high school graduation, and college completion. The Regents have already adopted policy on the first and the last of these, and continue an urgent debate about high school and how to improve graduation rates.
Let’s focus for the moment on P-12 education. We know that results have improved at elementary, middle, and high school, and that at some points the gaps are narrowing. More students graduate with a Regents diploma, and more meet the standards at 4th and 8th grade. But we want faster improvement. Only 64 percent graduate high school in four years, and we have repeatedly published the details – 43 percent for African-Americans, 40 percent for Hispanic, and 59 percent for males, compared to 69 percent among females.
The Regents have a robust strategy to raise achievement and close the gaps, which includes academic standards, testing and reporting, accountability, student data, higher standards for teacher certification and education, and grade-by-grade curriculum in mathematics and English Language Arts among others. These are good strategies and we must persist in them. But are there additional steps required now?
A recent State Education Department report to the Regents, using 2004-05 data, showed that 20 percent of the secondary classes in high poverty schools are taught by teachers that are not highly qualified in the subject they are teaching. Kati Haycock of The Education Trust has said so often, “teaching matters,” and has shown the consequences to a child of having a series of unsuccessful teachers. One can debate whether successful is always the same as qualified. But we have not ensured that every student has a highly qualified teacher. This month we published a school by school, district by district accounting of the need for more qualified teachers.
In all, 118 school districts and 1,324 schools fall below the 90 percent of core classes taught by highly qualified teachers. Of those there are 7 school districts and 254 schools in NCLB improvement status (i.e. low performers) that have fewer than 90 percent of core classes taught by highly qualified teachers.
While almost every school faces at least a part of the achievement challenge – and to their credit, teachers and school administrators acknowledge this and are responding – the greatest challenges are in the high need schools and districts. Our next strategies could involve a joint venture between Regents and the high need districts, with each side of the partnership doing what only they can do, but doing it in such a way that the strategies converge into something far more powerful than if state and local worked separately.
What are the promising local strategies to improve high school? The Big Five districts are using student achievement data with growing sophistication to change practice. For example, level 1 performance in the 8th grade is a leading indicator of failure in 9th grade, and drives new programming for some students as they enter high school. These schools seek higher attendance, not only through better recordkeeping and response, but also by making school engaging, something a student wouldn’t want to miss. As one Regent said, every kid needs to spend part of the school day doing something that really matters to them. USNY resources have the capacity to provide those elements that make learning engaging. We need to apply them. The cultural education legislative proposal, The Museum and Arts Institution Education Act could make that happen, bringing powerful tools for stimulating curiosity and creativity, particularly in under-resourced schools.
The Big Five districts are trying to manage the transition from 8th to 9th grade through summer programs and by injecting more literacy programs into early high school grades. They are attempting to make all schools safe. At least one of these districts has traded building autonomy for greater accountability. And they are building partnerships with health, mental health, and schools to diminish the distractions that impede instruction.
The high need schools and districts are far from success in these strategies, but they appear to be in an urgent search for what works. They are using a combination of foundation funding, better data, research, pilots, and adjusting while they go. What the district leaders say can be confirmed in visits to a dozen low performing high schools.
They will stumble from time to time. But they don’t need us to tell them exactly what to do tactically, in part because the work is so complex and dynamic. Rigid prescriptions crafted far from the action would halt the development of solutions. The high need schools and districts do need the Regents to remain steadfast in defining the expected outcome. That expectation must be demanding. And something else: the Regents can attack big problems that are beyond what local school leaders can do.
What are the most promising strategies for the Regents? Here are four suggestions. The Regents can improve the teaching pool, enable children who need it to receive more instructional time, secure a State Aid system that distributes money to match the need, and build large systems to improve health and mental health in ways that reduce distractions from the educational mission. Let’s look at each of these briefly.
Improving the teaching pool. We have a good foundation here, but children in high poverty schools are far more likely to have teachers who are not fully qualified, and more likely to have multiple teachers during the year. For the child, it’s a matter of start behind then fall farther behind each year.
We must get specific about how many teachers we need in what subjects. We learned this year, for example, that 679 teachers of mathematics in New York City did not have certification in mathematics. With the Chancellor, we created solutions, some of which are in place now. The City’s strategy to use housing allowances as a recruiting inducement is noteworthy. The Regents can modify the reciprocity policy for certified, experienced teachers in other states. We can create more alternative certification programs. Chancellor Ryan of SUNY has committed to do that. With higher education and school leaders, we can confront together the mismatch between market demands and teacher education supply. Things could be different in the future as job markets evolve but right now, the system produces a glut of elementary teachers and a dearth of mathematics, science, special education, and CTE teachers for middle and high school. Are there barriers that we could overcome?
We should also look at how the quest for small class size really works. Research in higher education has shown that large lecture classes as a steady diet are indeed associated with high failure rates and low graduation rates. But smaller classes that are really mini-lecture halls are no better from the perspective of student learning. When we observe high schools, don’t we see too many of those mini-lectures? Do our regulations promote good instruction?
The Education Trust has documented the maldistribution of teaching talent. That is, children in the high need, low performing schools are unlikely to have the most experienced, best prepared teachers, and unlikely to keep them if they do have such teachers. The Regents took a stand on this problem when they decided that teachers with temporary licenses could not teach at all. What else could we do to enable the children in greatest need to get the best teachers?
Professional development is required in New York, but how good is it, and how related is it to a strategy to improve student achievement? The 175 hours over five years takes place during the 180 days, that is, during the students’ time. Should we take another look at this?
We commissioned path-breaking research by Professor James Wyckoff and his colleagues on the relative value of the multiple paths to the credential. Early results suggest that in terms of student learning, it doesn’t make much difference which path a new teacher takes after the third year. We might prepare to use this research in a new round of policy on teacher preparation.
Some children need more time. The Regents at the Summit and in their 24-month policy calendar have declared that New York children need pre-kindergarten and full day kindergarten. Department studies estimate the incremental cost of pre-kindergarten at $595 million. This need not be attempted in one year but is feasible over several years.
Attendance is low in low performing high schools. In schools with average daily attendance below 93 percent, four-year graduation rates drop off rapidly. On average, students in New York City have 161 days of instruction while students in low need schools attend an average of 173 days. The people already pay for 180 days. Investment in strategies that improve attendance might be a low-cost way to give children who need it most more time.
What about the length of the school day? Do we think that the 4.5 hours now required is sufficient to educate students for the global challenges they will face? Does everyone actually receive the minimum 4.5 hours?
Big Five leaders assert the need for 200 days of instruction. Such proposals historically collapse once someone calculates the statewide cost. But might we consider 200 days only for the high schools with graduation rates below 70 percent? The incremental cost for those 127 high schools would be about $75 million a year.
Distribute the money differently to match the need. The Regents Foundation Formula State Aid plan is sound, based on research, and easy to understand. Let’s advocate vigorously for its enactment.
Build systems to improve health and mental health to reduce distractions from the educational mission. The Regents have heard from two experts who have built such systems. There are many models available. We are convinced that when these problems are not addressed effectively, a small percentage of the school population can push the school off its educational mission. We have no choice but to help create the foundation for partnerships with schools and health and mental health institutions. We cannot presume to direct this. It will require a real partnership, which means a joint assumption of risk, and sharing the leadership responsibility.
We can identify a few promising models, create challenge grants to provoke local system building and collaboration, and create ongoing opportunities for all to learn how to collaborate.
Those four strategies, grounded upon the successful work so far, could define our work in the years ahead to raise achievement for all students. But the real power in the idea is not in what we could do alone, but in what we and local education leaders could do in concert. Is it possible? We have talked with the Big Five leaders separately and together. They attended your Summit. They know the outcomes the Regents expect and understand the urgency in the situation. Before the September Regents meeting, we will hear their version of the concepts just outlined. Let’s prepare to be bold together with colleagues charged with educating the children most at risk.
State Education Department Capacity
As the Regents renew their policy direction, we must also prepare the State Education Department to execute that policy. The Regents will discuss a report on the Department’s capacity to do that. The report describes both strengths and challenges.
Eighty-eight percent of Department operations depend on federal funds or other state funds that are restricted to specific purposes. Fifty-four percent of Department operations are supported by federal funds and another 34 percent comes from fees and other sources that are also restricted in their use. Only 12 percent of operations are supported by State general funds. Consequently, the Department is exposed to even minor changes in federal policy or administration. Federal funds, for example, support assessment, school improvement, and regional unit operations. We depend on annual waivers to redeploy various federal administrative funds as needed. The USED administration of No Child Left Behind can put this State Education Department capacity at risk at any time. This level of exposure is unacceptable and must be addressed in future state budgets by gradually increasing the level of state support for Department operations.
Stated another way, only 339 positions are funded by State general funds. Absent federal waivers, only these positions can be redeployed as needed. Federal funds cannot be used for purposes beyond those stated in the particular federal program without prior approval. In practice, there are also limits on how we can redeploy state funded positions because many of them are highly specialized.
On a positive note, we have six strategies to maximize capacity, and the report provides details. Here are those strategies: identify new job titles, skills and competencies and expand professional development so staff can prepare for them; prioritize and fill key vacancies; request additional staff to fill critical needs; redeploy staff where possible; train and develop staff; and identify efficiencies, duplication, and non-essential work. We are using all of those strategies today.
The report describes the essential work of the State Education Department, and then shows how we have deployed our 3041 staff. This analysis raises some questions for the Board that might lead to changes in that deployment. For example, have we committed enough staff to assessment and data? I think not. Our budget proposal calls for 99 additional staff in the Department overall.
The Regents want to know whether or not the Department has the capacity to carry out the Board’s priorities. We identified the staff costs associated with the 24-month policy calendar. We have also identified the increasing responsibilities required of the Department as a result of new federal and State statutory mandates. Our budget request asks for 99 new positions to increase the capacity of the Department to carry out the Board’s priorities.
While the Department is changing rapidly as staff members retire, which is a circumstance that we predicted in reports to the Regents years ago, we are also adding new staff, and securing approvals from State control agencies to do so. We are also changing the Department intentionally to create the Department of the Future as promised last July.
A significant part of the capacity question turns on how one sees the Department and the many regional structures, including BOCES. If the Department were to operate in isolation, we have just over 3000 people. If we act in concert with all the regional structures, the total talent pool is closer to 30,000. A force that large cannot be envisioned in traditional command and control terms as if we were “in charge,” able to order others to do our bidding. But if the Regents and all of us bring the aims of the USNY Summit to life in a way that inspires commitment to joint action, we will be closer to having the capacity to match our tasks. We have had many discussions with the District Superintendents in recent months in pursuit of that goal.
Workforce Diversity in the State Education Department
New York is steadily becoming more diverse, which is a great advantage in a global economy. But to seize that advantage, New York must raise achievement and close the gaps that divide us along lines of race, income, and disability. The State Education Department must become more diverse to better understand and respond to the demands of the people we serve.
The report describes the State Education Department workforce and compares it to the diversity of both the regional and statewide labor forces. The State Education Department is more diverse than the regional labor force, but less diverse than the statewide labor force. We cannot be satisfied with this, and must aim for the higher standard. This requires a long view in selecting strategies. For example, it is not enough to point to lack of diversity in a particular Civil Service list. We must plan ahead and encourage students to take Civil Service exams so that we can recruit them just a few years later.
Annual Report on Charter Schools
The Regents will discuss, and possibly approve, the draft annual report on charter schools for 2004-05. The report shows that 61 charter schools were operating during 2004-05, and 18,408 students attended. The overall financial impact as a proportion of school district budgets ranged from .01 percent to 10.15 percent (Albany City School District). The report concludes with recommendations to improve the chartering process.
Student Information System
The Student Information System has four major parts: unique student identifiers that are now assigned to over 3 million students; data repositories that house the grade 3 through 8 test data; a reporting system called NYSTART to report results to parents, schools and districts which will be available in August; and a data security system. The Regents will discuss a brief report on the status of this system.
Clinical Laboratory Technology Professions
In 2004, three new licensed professions under the authority of the Board of Regents were established in statute: Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Cytotechnologist, and Clinical Laboratory Technician, bringing the total number of professions licensed, regulated and disciplined by the Regents to 47. The State Board for Clinical Laboratory Technology has been appointed by the Regents and this month the Regents will discuss public comment received, review revised regulations and possibly approve the new regulation. Over 30,000 new licensees, who perform millions of vital laboratory tests each year, are anticipated as a result of this new law.
Regents Legislative and Budget Proposals
The Regents will discuss a draft of their proposed legislative and budget proposals for the 2007-08 fiscal year. The state aid proposal will be discussed separately at a later time.
State Aid Proposal for 2007-08
The Regents Subcommittee on State Aid continues its step-by-step construction of the Regents State Aid Proposal. This month’s report recommends continued use of a Foundation Formula based on the cost of education in successful school districts. School district success is defined as 80 percent passing seven tests over three years. Passing means levels 3 and 4 on grade 4 tests and 65 or above on Regents exams. The tests include grade 4 English and mathematics, and Regents exams in earth science, mathematics A, global history and geography, United States history, and English.
The renewed Foundation Cost will be based on costs in 465 school districts that met the subcommittee’s definition of success over three years.
A monthly publication of the State Education Department
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