Commissioner letterhead

March 2009





Opportunities from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

              The federal government is poised to distribute the first part of more than $100 billion for education by the end of March.  New York’s share over two years will include $2.5 billion in stabilization funds that are to be used to maintain state spending for elementary, secondary and higher education and another $1.7 billion, again over two years, to increase support for NCLB Title 1 and IDEA.  There still are other funds to come.

              Two-thirds of the first year’s funding will flow after governors apply for it and provide four assurances concerning standards and assessments, equitable distribution of teaching talent, development of P-16 data systems, and improvements in low-performing schools.  New York not only has great strength in all four areas, but also well-developed plans for the future.  We are expected to prepare these assurances and we will.  The Regents need to see them.

              The stimulus money is essential for state budgets around the nation, including New York.  Many complex decisions and actions will be required quickly.  Local schools need to know expected state and federal revenues during the first week in April.  New York must be in the forefront with a strong application.  And the federal funds come with four firm expectations:  deliver the funds quickly, do this with unprecedented transparency and accountability, protect jobs, and improve student achievement.  We hear those four expectations repeatedly from the White House, the U.S. secretary of education, and federal staff at all levels.

              The state stabilization funds will provide the Executive and legislature with an opportunity to avoid a year-to-year reduction in state aid.  As the budget process nears a conclusion, we continue to point out that Foundation aid is a broadly supported state policy with the clear purpose of providing equitable and adequate funding that brings with it accountability for results and balances stability with the drive to close achievement gaps. It is New York’s considered strategy to deliver dramatically better achievement.  It must be sustained, especially in hard times.

              There is another opportunity for New York to seize in the stimulus law, and that is the $5 billion in incentive and innovation funds.  The same four assurances are expected to drive the distribution of these funds.  A request for proposals will appear very soon.  Secretary Duncan has told the chief state school officers that the funds will come in two phases.  He has repeatedly encouraged joint efforts among the states.  The challenge funds will not flow to every state but to a dozen or so.  They will not flow to states that merely report what they are doing but only to those who have already accomplished a lot and commit to break still more ground to deliver results for children.

              One interesting potential for joint effort is in academic standards.  The Secretary has expressed strong interest in state-led national standards that signify college and work readiness and are benchmarked to international standards.  Many states are considering joining that effort.  So far, 34 states have worked with Achieve, Inc. on mathematics or English Language Arts standards.  New York is one of them in that the Regents standards committee engaged Achieve as one of several partners in reviewing our ELA standards to provide guidance.

              If the leading states converged on a set of learning standards in mathematics, English Language Arts and science, they could also join forces on examinations.  This would eliminate significant expense for participating states and allow them to concentrate minds and resources on improved practice that leads directly to student achievement.  As a long-time national leader in creating and using high standards to improve achievement, New York should be at the forefront of this discussion.

              Senior Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier and Deputy Commissioner Theresa Savo will join me in summarizing the situation with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Closing a Gap in Teacher Tenure

              A recent Commissioner’s decision under section 310 of the Education Law revealed a long-standing gap in New York’s tenure regulations affecting teachers assigned to instructional support duties.  Under the current tenure regulations, no tenure area covers these duties and teachers filling critical roles as teacher trainers and curriculum development specialists are not accruing seniority for such service.  This month, the Regents will receive an oral briefing on this situation, the Department’s actions to date, and a proposal to create a new tenure area for these positions.


Planning for a Technology-enhanced Education

            The Regents in recent years have responded to the need to use technology effectively to support teaching and learning with a series of actions.  The Board created the USNY Technology Policy and Practices Council to advise them on this matter. Regents have not only attended to the council’s recommendations, but also Regents have attended council meetings.  Chancellor Bennett appointed Regents Bendit, Bowman and Phillips to a Regents Work Group on Educational Technology. The work group recommended instructional technology priorities to the Regents in September 2008.  We formed a Commissioner’s Task Force to act on those priorities, which brings us to the current matter before the Board.  New York needs a statewide plan to guide long-term development of educational technology capacity.  The need is obvious, and now the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds could help provide the means.

              The task force produced a mission statement, a vision of a technology-rich educational future, and a set of outcomes that would bring that vision to reality.  We need the advice of the field and the public to help us create a plan that is workable and broadly supported.  We are ready to take that step, provided that the mission, vision, and outcomes match Regents expectations.  At the March Regents meeting, the three Regents who constitute the work group will join me in outlining our proposal and the work ahead.  If the Regents concur, we will immediately engage the field and prepare the statewide plan.

Ensuring All Students with Disabilities Have Highly Qualified Teachers

            As part of their ongoing review of teacher policy, the Regents and SED have documented the mismatch between current certification requirements and the needs of children with disabilities.  This month the Board will discuss a framework to modify the structure of certification categories to ensure that all children with disabilities have highly qualified teachers.  The related meeting memo recounts how the Board developed this framework through review of the data since 2007 and consultation with the field.

              The proposed framework would reduce 45 certificate categories to three.  The Regents and SED have previously reported the severe shortage of teachers of special education in grades 7 through 12. While 47 percent of P-12 special education enrollment was in grades 5 through 12 in 2006-07, only 12 percent of those who completed their education to teach students with disabilities in that year were qualified to teach students in those grades.  These shortages are likely to continue.  The proposed framework reflects thoughtful principles that start with this one: “There must be enough teachers at all levels to serve students with disabilities.”  In developing the proposal, SED consulted the Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching, and countless members of the field. 

Grades 3-8 Tests – Revising the Calendar

              The EMSC Committee will continue the discussion of grades 3 through 8 testing with new data from a field survey.  The survey results illuminate but do not simplify the search for assessment schedules and test formats that could deliver faster cycle time for test results.  There is no clear preference for when to administer the ELA test.  Seventy-four percent of responders favor local or regional scoring, and 85 percent favor a combination of multiple-choice and open-ended questions.  In the case of mathematics, no month was favored by a majority of responders.  March appears to be the latest month for test administration that would allow for local or regional scoring, open-ended as well as multiple choice, and results returned before the end of school.  However 70 percent want a month between the ELA and mathematics exams.

Tracking School and District Improvement

              SED will release the accountability results required by No Child Left Behind at the EMSC Committee.  We will see the number of schools making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and the schools and districts needing improvement.  The results track the performance previously reported on the grades 3 through 8 exams. Important indicators to watch are numbers of schools added and removed from the list, and the number that, while not removed, nevertheless are positioned for removal next year because they made AYP for the first time. In addition, the committee will discuss how these same data would appear in the context of the newly approved differentiated accountability model.  Differentiated accountability simplifies the accountability measure by using fewer categories and brings more rigor and greater flexibility.  Differentiated accountability will strengthen the districts’ capacity to improve schools.  The next report on AYP status will appear before the start of the 2009–10 school year.

Reviewing the Experience with Charter Schools

              Charter schools continue to attract interest nationally and in New York. After ten years, what can we learn from New York’s charter school movement?  The Regents will continue to develop the questions they want answered through research. The item for discussion this month in the EMSC Committee includes these questions: What are the features of successful and unsuccessful charter schools?  In what sense have charters been models?  Have charter schools enrolled and retained students with disabilities and English language learners?  What has been the overall effects of the charter school movement on academic performance and the cost of education?

VESID’s Response to Veterans

              The VESID Committee will discuss implementation of new rehabilitation and interagency activities stemming from the Designing Our Future recommendations.  A significant part of the Regents item describes the VESID Veterans Service Action Plan.  We are partners with many other agencies on the New York State Council on Veterans Affairs recently created by Executive Order.  VESID has established an internal Veterans Services Work Group to identify current best practices and promote them statewide and create new services where they are needed.   The committee expressed particular interest in this information last month.


Mandate Relief in Special Education

              The VESID Committee will continue its review of mandate relief in the context of the Board’s determination to improve achievement for students with disabilities.  The Regents will discuss an item that provides additional information that the committee requested on certain proposals discussed in January and February, including data on other states’ practices. The item returns to an examination of cost drivers in education and associated cost control strategies that also represent good practice in the education of children with disabilities.  This approach appeared to be influential when Deputy Commissioner Rebecca Cort presented it to the Commission on Property Tax Relief last year.  These ideas are promising because they join data-based conclusions about root causes of higher costs with research and experience-based conclusions about good things to do for children.  That these good practices also would tend to lower costs is encouraging. Putting these practices to work would more likely require changes in practice than in regulation. And that implies a need for wide-spread communications and professional development.