April 2007


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Overview:  This Regents meeting is about the board’s most fundamental concern: raising student achievement and closing the gap in the face of global competitors who are also pursuing education reforms.  The Regents will drive this issue through dialog with members of Congress on needed improvements in No Child Left Behind; school visits in Roosevelt; a forum on school improvement involving leaders from improving schools; a discussion with economic development leaders who grasp education’s contribution; and a series of visits to pairs of schools that illustrate high achievement in some Long Island schools and the need for improvement in others. During their business session, the Regents will continue these themes with discussion of proposed regulations to implement the Contract for Excellence contained in the adopted New York State budget.

            Roosevelt at the Tipping Point.  Roosevelt School District is at a tipping point with a better future in view.  While the district is in fiscal stress, the Interim Board of Education has adopted a prudent 2007-08 budget proposal that is already below the current level and would hold the tax levy increase to 7 percent.  With the help of SED and three Long Island education leaders, former Superintendent William Brosnan, District Superintendent James Mapes, and District Superintendent Edward Zero, we have identified a combination of revenue increases and expenditure reductions sufficient to eliminate a potential deficit of $6.1 million in the current year. We must still resolve the $6.2 million deficit from 2006-07, and we are developing a plan to do that in a way that protects the taxpayers.

            A combination of poor financial controls, budgeting practices, and management practices produced the deficits. The fiscal stress has to be resolved. We discovered the financial control defects in an SED audit last May, but our oversight was not detailed or timely enough to avoid the deficits.  We have added both financial and educational staff monitors in Roosevelt and tightened State oversight. The State Comptroller has committed staff to continuous auditing of expenditures starting in May, with quarterly public reports.

            Roosevelt also has significant educational problems, and we gave a current accounting of these to the Regents and the public earlier this year.  However, many things have improved: a ninth grade academy, two new schools built and open, with more on the way, still higher achievement in elementary grades,  heightened security,  new principals in the middle and high schools,  student mentoring, to cite just a few. These gains are reasons to believe that still greater improvements are possible.  Superintendent Ron Ross has resigned effective June 30, 2007.  In response I recounted his many contributions to those improvements, and thanked him for his service to the children of Roosevelt. I have immediately turned to finding a new superintendent.

            Many have stepped up to assist Roosevelt.  The Comptroller’s commitment of resources is unprecedented. And the three superintendents mentioned above dropped everything to help with the financial problems just because they were asked. They devoted countless hours to this work. County Executive Thomas Suozzi wants to make an array of county agencies more immediately available to support students in Roosevelt.  Regent Tilles and Senior Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier have approached college and university presidents to build sustainable relationships with Roosevelt to support higher student achievement.

            The Roosevelt community demonstrated its demand for and commitment to better results when hundreds of residents responded to an invitation to talk with me about the schools last week.  The State has a long history with Roosevelt.  Some strategies have succeeded, while others have not.  There is a lot of frustration and we needed to listen to and respect that frustration.  Toward the end of the four-hour discussion, one resident of Roosevelt spoke of the need to let the sun set on our frustrations and focus on what we will do now for the children of Roosevelt. That sounded the right note for the difficult work ahead.  It is work that requires many hands.

            Reforming the Federal Reform: No Child Left Behind.  Only five states had accountability systems that met NCLB criteria one year after the President signed the law. New York was one of them, and for good reason: The Regents had years before started crafting and implementing strategies to raise achievement, including standards, assessments, teacher reforms, accountability, and public reporting.  It was obvious at the start that NCLB had flaws, but the Regents and the State Education Department worked with the opportunities that the law created.  The years have passed, however, and issues that were bumps in the road have become real barriers.  As the Congress contemplates reauthorization, the New York experience is relevant.  At the meeting this month, the Regents will discuss NCLB directly with members of Congress representing Long Island.

            The Regents identified more than 30 places where NCLB needs revision but these resolve into five main issues.  Here they are:

            A single accountability designation.   Instead of listing schools multiple times for various shortcomings under NCLB, use a singe accountability designation based on Title I, which reflects achievement of the subgroups of students. This approach would support comprehensive action at State and local levels.

            Allow a growth model of accountability.  NCLB compels New York to measure the proportion of students meeting standards at each grade, which leads to comparing, for example, one year’s third grade with another.  Parents and teachers, however, want to know how the third graders perform this year, and also how they perform as fourth graders next year.  What we have measures status. What we want to measure is growth.  The New York budget requires us to create a  growth model of accountability for 2008-09, and also provides $15 million and 77 new positions to help accomplish the task.

            Focus State intervention where needed.  NCLB sometimes requires New York to mandate broad sanctions when only one group of students is performing below expectations.  Instead, the law should allow us and local educators to focus on the problem, not create new problems with overly broad intervention.

            Create appropriate assessments for special populations.  NCLB requires New York to test English Language Learners who have lived here more than one year using the regular English Language Arts test.  By definition, such children are not yet fluent in English.  The U.S. Department of Education has also created an arbitrary limit on the percentage of students with severe cognitive disabilities who can be tested using an alternate exam and has failed to recognize the range of individual needs of students with disabilities.  Tests are essential to accountability. But let the tests be appropriate so that the resulting data can drive action.

            Set reasonable targets for “Highly Qualified Teachers.”  Regents policy and local action have reduced to 5.5 percent the proportion of core academic courses taught by individuals who don’t meet the criteria for the “Highly Qualified Teacher” designation.  We still have far to go, however. More than 17 percent of core courses in low wealth schools are taught by those who don’t meet the criteria.  No amount of exhortation or sanction will reduce this gap to zero by this July.

            This week, Deputy Commissioner David Miller and I expressed the Regents views on these five issues to seven members of the New York congressional delegation: Representatives Nita Lowey, Peter King, Tim Bishop, Steve Israel, Randy Kuhl, Carolyn McCarthy, and Maurice Hinchey, as well as with staff from representatives Charles Rangel and Yvette Clarke’s offices.  Governor Spitzer sent a letter advocating the same positions.  In the weeks ahead, we will continue and intensify our advocacy.  Whether reauthorization happens soon or much later, congressional staff and members are defining positions now.  

            Contract for Excellence: Defining the Rules.  This week the Regents enter the third set of debates about a centerpiece of accountability when they discuss regulations for the Contract for Excellence. The first debate proceeded smoothly during the Executive transition, as Regents, the Governor-Elect, executive staff, and senior SED staff worked together on what soon became Article VII language in the budget process.  Regents and Governor’s priorities were aligned.  The second debate occurred during the budget process, which was more challenging, but it too came to a satisfactory conclusion.  The third debate is squarely before the Regents today. At each successive engagement on the issue, there is a natural tendency for participants from every perspective to want to reshape what was done earlier.  When the regulations are complete,  we must be able to demonstrate fidelity to the intent manifest in the State budget. 

            Why are we advancing these regulations under emergency rules?  The Governor has committed to recommending $7 billion in new aid over the next four years. The 2007-08 State budget has already allocated $1.7 billion.  School districts are bringing their 2007-08 budgets to the voters within days.  For 55 school districts, not including New York City,  expenditures supported by additional state funding included in those budget must reflect the educational strategies included in the Contract for Excellence budget language.  If we were to move slowly, we would in effect weaken the first year impact of the state aid increase.

            We are able to move quickly on this decision if the Regents agree. The State Education Department began thinking about these issues before the State budget was adopted.  I asked staff to plan using the Article VII language as originally proposed.  When Senior Deputy Commissioner Duncan-Poitier took up her new position, she intensified this work.  Within days of the enactment of the budget, we were able to issue a guidance memo to the field.  We consulted with educational leaders directly, and in the following week, Johanna Duncan-Poitier sent a “Working Draft” that reflected consultation with many people, including leaders in the districts expected to complete a Contract for Excellence.  The Department conducted two teleconferences to draw still more comments, and we have now received hundreds of comments from legislators, representatives of the Executive, educators, advocacy groups, and others.  

            In the P-16 Plan, the Regents promised this: “We will engage everyone …”  To the best of our ability in the short time since the adoption of the State Budget, we have done that.  The emergency regulation process allows for still more listening: if the Regents adopt the regulations in April under emergency rules, they must hear additional comments and adopt the regulations a second time in June, and then confirm the adoption in July.  This approach enables schools to move as quickly as possible to put the new accountability systems in place. Doing that quickly and well is the beginning of the campaign for next year’s funding, but more importantly, it demonstrates follow through that justifies the faith that people had in the Regents guidance of the education reforms.


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