If you attended secondary public school or taught in a public secondary school in New York State you know all about the dreaded regents exams; however, who are “the Regents”?
… The head of the department of education shall be The Regents of the University of the State of New York, who shall appoint and at pleasure remove a commissioner of education to be the chief administrative officer of the department …
ARTICLE XI – EDUCATION
§ 1. [Common schools]
The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.
§ 2. [Regents of the University]
The corporation created in the year one thousand seven hundred eighty-four, under the name of The Regents of the University of the State of New York, is hereby continued under the name of The University of the State of New York. It shall be governed and its corporate powers, which may be increased, modified or diminished by the legislature,
The members of the Board of Regents are elected by the legislature and serve under rules created by the legislature. Although the Regents are elected, traditionally the legislature selects highly qualified citizens, a mixture from the worlds of business, education, the arts and the medical sciences.
For two days each month the Board meets in Albany and sets policy for schools and all “licensed” professions. It is a daunting task.
The members of the Board have another quality, they are anonymous. With the exception of the Chancellor the Regents have operated in the shadows, with a few exceptions.
The seventeen members of the Board represent each judicial district with two members at large.
Do you know your Regent? (check here)
The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the union representing hundreds of thousand teachers have always had a respectful and collaborative relationship with the Commissioner and the Regents. NYSUT fights for funding and frequently lobbeys for the passage of legislation “across the street” (The classic columned Department of Education building is across the street from the State Capital).
After intense negotiations the stakeholders supported legislation that qualified the state for Race to the Top funding by dramatically changing the teacher/principal evaluation system.
Commissioner Steiner appointed a 63 member Task Force that toiled since October eventually crafting regulations. The regulations are dense, and, the Task Force staff did not come from the Department, but from a 501 (c) (3), the Regents Research Fund.
The Fund is bankrolled by the Tisch Foundation, the Gates Foundation and charter school organizations.
A privately-funded group of educators will be guiding the State Education Department (SED) as it implements Race-to-the-Top reforms such as creating new teacher and principal evaluation systems, developing a statewide curriculum and redesigning assessment programs.
The Regents Research Fund has secured commitments for donations of about $4 million of a desired $18 million for the new “Fellows” program.
“The Fellows program will bring together bold thinkers who are passionate about reform and deeply committed to ensuring that all of our children receive the education they deserve,” said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “With the help of these talented thought leaders, we can make New York’s reform agenda a reality.”
Tisch wears a second hat: donor. A philanthropic fund named for Tisch and her husband, real estate developer James Tisch, has donated $1 million to the Regents Research Fund to sponsor Fellows. Other donations include $1.5 million from the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, $892,500 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $50,000 from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and $50,000 from the Carnegie Corporation. Just this month, the fund received a $500,000 grant from the Amy and Larry Robbins Foundation, a group that recently contributed $2 million towards the cost of building a new elementary charter school campus in New York City.
Many of the Task Force members felt the process was not responsive and were not happy with the final recommendations which represented the views of the staff rather than the Task Force.
The full Regents were due to vote on the recommendations of the Task Force as amended by the Commissioner on May 16th.
On Friday May 13th the Governor issued a press release announcing dramatic changes in the already controversial draft regulations. Within minutes Chancellor Tisch endorsed the Governor’s changes and, with three no votes, the Regents passed the regulations.
The long established covenant between the teachers of the state of New York and the Commissioner and the Regents may have shattered.
The 696 school districts in New York State elect school boards, set budgets and hire superintendents. Although the Commissioner applies the regulations it is crucial that Commissioner and the school districts act in harmony. NYSUT, with members in each and every school district have always had a collegial relationship with State Education and worked collaboratively in the implementation of state adopted policies.
The Regents and the Commissioner are at a crucial juncture. The path to the full implementation of the Common Core will require a state-wide effort. New York State is in the lead among the 26 states in the PARCC consortium . However, is the state pushing ahead too quickly? Will the feds continue to fund the process, especially the creation of Common Core assessments? Will school districts fund at the local level the immense costs associated with new curricula, and, will teachers buy in? Will they feel that they are a valued part of a process or overburdened with “edicts” from on high?
As the dust settles how will school districts respond to the substantial costs associated with the teacher-principal evaluation plan? Will the school districts and the local unions rush to negotiate plans, as required by law, or, sit on their hands and wait and see how the plans play out in other districts?
The covenant, the close working relationship between the state education leadership and teachers throughout the state is in tatters. In New York City the Chancellor Klein decided fighting the union would be more productive than creating a working relationship.
Is the New York State educational leadership following the Klein confrontational path, or, will they actively work to re-establish a partnership with the folks in the classrooms?