The Regents/Commissioner Agenda: Grappling with the Future of Education in New York State

The Board of Regents meets monthly beginning on a Monday morning with a webcast full board meeting in the historic Regents Room, lined with portraits of former chancellors dating into the 19th century.  The February 24th meeting began with detailed description of the new federal law, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  (Read the federal description here and the State Ed Power Point explanation here  and watch the archived webcast here which included many questions and many unresolved issues).

The Board moves to a series of committee meetings with presentations by the commissioner and her staff, education leaders from around the state and other invited guests. (The committee meetings are not webcast)The presentations sometimes relate to a topic for discussion that will evolve into policy and at other times an informational topic. Policy issues move to votes, a period for public comment, back to the committee and, if approved by the committee on to the full board for a vote.

On Monday the P-12 Committee spent the morning listening to a lengthy presentation, “Revision and Implementation of the New ELA and Mathematics Standards,” (Watch Power Point here) by the commissioner. The survey posted by State Ed garnered thousands of comments about the Common Core and pointed to a number of specific areas that practitioners thought required revisions. The state will convene stakeholder meetings, just about every constituency imaginable (including Content Advisory Panels and Standards Review Committees), and move towards a revision of the Common Core. At the end of the process, about three years, the next generation of state tests will reflect the revisions; a caveat, someone must provide the dollars to fund the process: BTW, the Common Core will be renamed Aim High NY.

Make sure you click on and watch the Power Point above; the areas for suggested revision are specific.

The P-12 Committee moved into a discussion of Academic Intervention Services/AIS. School districts are required to identify and provide targeted services to a cohort of students; the state determines the targeted students.  Should the targeted group be defined as all students who score below proficient on state tests (below 3.0)?  Or, all students who score below 2.5?  Should school districts be permitted to use multiple measures to identify AIS students?  Two educators, one from upstate and one from New York City described the local processes – a lively discussion ensued, especially among the Regents who were former superintendents, (Watch Power Point here). The commissioner will return to the board with a specific recommendation that will move through the comment period to adoption of recommendations binding on school districts. The sharp decline in scores under the Common Core tests doubled the pool of AIS eligible students potentially sharply increasing the cost to the district and/or reducing the student per capita spending.

In the next session the Regents received an update on creating formal policy regarding increasing the numbers of students in “least restrictive environments” that will be forthcoming in the fall.  Some school district prefer to place students with disabilities in self-contained classrooms, others prefer to place students in integrative, co-teaching classes. The discussions, as they emerge later in the year, should be lively.

The approval of a number of charter schools, usually pro-forma resulted in animated discussion around the New York Times video of a “model teacher” berating a third grade child who could not answer a question. Success Academy charter schools are authorized by SUNY, not the Board of Regents; do the Regents have any authority to investigate the pedagogy in schools that they do not authorize?  Clearly, the Regents were quite upset and four Regents refused to vote on the approval of the charter schools on the agenda.

The NYS Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children presented a policy paper (Read here) and a Power Point, “Promoting School Justice Partnerships to Keep Youth in School and Out of Court” which began with the statements:

Myth: There is really no evidence that the “school to prison pipeline” really exist.

Bottom Line: Suspension often is the first step in a chain of events leading to short and long term consequences, i. e., incarceration.

Are the Regents and the Commissioner moving in the right direction? 

Correlation does not equal causation.

The discussion around AIS service and suspension are typical of “parachute” answers – solutions dropped in from the heavens.

Schools typically purchase an AIS program, we’re talking remediation, for example Read 180.  Schools monitor the implementation of the program, not the basic level of the instruction and the emotional needs of the student. Are the dollars and time spent on the AIS program more effective than the classroom instruction? Would the use of the funding and time be better spent in counseling and attending to the basic physical/emotional needs of the child?  And, the overall question: do AIS services improve student outcomes?

Are suspensions the first step leading to incarceration or are the basic behaviors of the child preceding the act that led to the suspension event the first step to criminal acts?

The core of education is the teacher and the curriculum.

There are no magic bullets; we aren’t hiding large numbers of wonderful teachers in some cave or some secret sauce that improves math skills.

We don’t do a good job of recruiting prospective teachers, we could prepare teachers a lot better and we can certainly support new teacher much better. Teaching is the only profession with such high attrition rates.

We know that trauma has adverse impacts on children, the research is overwhelming (Read some of the research findings here), yet the powers above pour dollars into remediation rather than the health and social services that address the underlying reasons for difficulties in school.

Yes, the teacher is the core, the building block of our entire education system. The fatally flawed teacher evaluation system (APPR) neither measured teacher effectiveness nor discriminated among teachers.

Getting better as a teacher is a career-long trek.

For example, a recent research is troubling, and hopefully will result in teacher introspection.

New research shows that black and white teachers give very different evaluations of behavior of black students. When a black student has a black teacher that teacher is much, much less likely to see behavioral problems than when the same black student has a white teacher.

New research by Adam Wright, “Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Disruptive Behavior: The Effect of Racial Congruence and Consequences for School Suspension,” documents that black teachers have much less negative views of black student behavior than do white teachers.

Are white teachers less able to “relate” to students of color?  Can teaching be described by the Danielson Frameworks or is culturally responsive pedagogy essential to be an effective teacher?

Looking for that magical fairy dust that can be sprinkled over the students who are not progressing in literacy and numeracy is a chimera. The better question is why that school a few blocks away with the same kids is doing so much better?  There are high and low suspension schools; once again, why?  I don’t object to restorative justice practices, they are time consuming and can be expensive. Collaborative and demanding school leaders, a team approach, schools in which teachers, together, strategize about kids, are more likely to achieve better academic outcomes and fewer suspensions.

The answers are blowing in the wind, we have to catch them.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s