Last week a joint meeting of the Education and Higher Education Committees of the NYS Assembly interviewed scores of applicants for the seven regents positions that up for election or re-election. Two positions are vacant (Queens and Westchester/Rockland/Putnam) and five are candidates for re-election.
On Monday the committee interviewed the incumbents and for the remainder of the week interviewed other aspirants. Usually the local electeds select a candidate, and at a joint meeting of both houses “elects” the regent. I sat through a number of the interviews, tedious. The candidates are allowed a five minute presentation and respond to questions; the interviews last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending upon the number of legislators present and interest in the viability of the candidate. Below: the five minute presentation I hope a candidate would have given.
Members of the legislature, the media and others in the audience,
The Board of Regents was created in 1784 and is vested with the authority to establish policy for all schools and professions in New York State. Unfortunately the board continues to operate aloof from the citizens of the state. There appears to be a growing disconnect between parents, legislators and board members.
Board members are elected by a joint meeting of the legislature to represent their judicial district or, as at -large members. The board must change its practices so that, to the fullest extent possible, the public can both be aware of the deliberations of the board, and, participate in the discussions.
As a prospective board member I propose structural changes,
* The entire regents meeting, the full board meeting and the committee meetings, especially P-12 and Higher Ed committees, should be webcast and archived, the comments of the board members should be available to the state, not just the audience on that particular day.
* There must be an opportunity for public comment. Virtually every public meeting, from school board to town hall has a mechanism for real time public comment, a parent in White Plains, Rochester, Buffalo, the North Country or the Bronx should have an opportunity to participate in the meeting via cyberspace.
* Regents should be required to hold public forums in their districts, perhaps fall, winter and spring, once again, an opportunity for the public to interact, face to face, with regents members.
* The regents agenda and attachments should be written in “plain English,” with a brief explanation for each item and posted online a week before the meetings, now they are available Friday or Saturday before the Monday meeting and densely written.
* The board should seek funding for a state-wide Parent Information Center, similar to the New York City “311” system. The ability to establish a mechanism to answer parent questions varies widely throughout the state, consolidating into one state operated center is essential.
The role of the regents is to establish policy; increasingly policy has been set in Washington and regents role has been to figure out procedures to implement these policies. The Common Core and Race to the Top are national policies and they have dominated educational discussions for the last five years. The Malatras letters from the governor are another example of overreach; just as educational policies should not be written in stone in Washington nor should they be written on the second floor of the Capital.
Educational policy has been set by the commissioner, not the regents. The Race to the Top funding ends in June and the board must re-establish its role.
What are the priorities of the regents?
I suggest: equitable, adequate funding, responding to the current high stakes testing climate, creating a pathway to work or college for all students, responding to the criticism of “low performing” schools, the testing of English language learners and students with disabilities, too many school districts, the power and authority of the SED to intervene in school districts are some of the items that should become priorities of the regents.
Currently the feds require that students with disabilities are tested at their chronological age, not at their functional level, the result is dooming kids to failure; and, the feds also require that English language learners are tested after one year in school regardless of their level of English acquisition. Regent Phillips, who is not seeking re-election, on numerous occasions has suggested that the regents simply do what is right and confront the feds, create a crisis. Unfortunately his suggestion has not resonated with his peers.
Under the current ESEA Waiver, Reward Schools receive additional funding, why are we supporting sending additional dollars to successful schools? Perhaps we should consider relieving successful schools from burdensome reporting requirements and use the dollars to support the neediest schools.
A core question deals with a mechanism to determine individual student and school progress: are the current Common Core-based tests the best way to assess progress?
The seventeen women and men in a room, the members of the board, with broad public input, should set the direction of education in the state of New York.
Thank you for your patience and I look forward to your questions.
Unfortunately the audience for the interviews was meager, a few members of the regents, a few media reps, a NYSUT staffer, and a few others. The interviews were not live-streamed.
There is no formal process, the local legislators will caucus, discuss among themselves, and recommend to the brand new Assembly leadership. Early in March the legislature will formally elect, or reelect the candidates and incumbents.