Chancellor Betty Rosa: A New Leadership Amidst Swirling Conflicts

A historic day in Albany – Betty Rosa was elected as Chancellor of the Board of Regents.

Dr. Rosa’s election was greeted with scathing editorials in the New York Post (“New Regents chancellor will be the latest sore for public schools“) and the New York Daily News (“Chancellor Rosa opts out“)  and  Carol Burris, in the Washington Post, chides her predecessor and predicts that Rosa will make dramatic positive changes in the direction of the board and actually lists ten changes she expects.

Betty is stepping off the diving board into a pool of both snapping alligators and adoring fans.

Dr. Rosa faces a range of hotly debated issues – issues that are beyond the powers of the chancellor: annual grades 3-8 tests are required by law, all English language learners with more than year in the country must be tested and almost all students with disabilities must be tested. The feds are currently writing regulations to clarify the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (Read process here) and while the new law does give states far more authority the feds have by no means disappeared (See a fed “Dear Colleague” clarification letter here). The feds will be inviting a handful of states to explore alternative assessments, and Dr. Rosa would love to be one of the states.

Over the last few months Regent Judith Johnson, on the board only since last April and a former superintendent has asked the same question of her colleagues and the commissioner: what is your theory of change? Or, to put more succinctly, why are we taking a specific action?  Have we explored the unintended consequences?

So far, nods of agreement, and little discussion.

Twenty-five years ago, after lengthy discussions the board voted to move to a single regents diploma and eliminate the 9th grade level  Regents Competency Exams and limit the local diploma to a  “safety net” for students with disabilities. The phase-in took years with many bumps in the road. A majority of students in New York State were graduating with a local diploma that did not prepare them for college or work. The board weathered outcries from school districts and parents, adjusted and lengthened the phase-in.

The board now seems to be chipping away at the regents diploma.

A dozen years ago the board changed the English Regents from a two-day, 3-hour a day exam to a one-day, 3-hour exam – passing rates increased by 20%. Were the students 20% “smarter” or was the 2-day exam a flawed exam?

The exam with the lowest passing rate – in the 60% range – the Global Studies Regents. A few years ago the regents reduced the scope of the exam from two years of work (9th and 10th grades) to the 10th grade only – to go into effect with the June, 2018 exam. (Take a crack at the January, 2016 Global Studies Regents exam here).

The commissioner and board never explored important questions: why were kids doing so poorly on the exam?  Is it the scope of the work?  The reading/writing skills required on the exam?  The basic structure of the exam?

On Monday, after lengthy and at time contentious discussion the K-12 committee passed two resolutions: first to consider the CDOS credential in lieu of one regents examination and second to increase the appeal procedure that generates re-scoring of a regents exam from grades of 62-64 to grades of 60-64.

A CDOS (Career Development and Occupational Studies) credential is a career plan intended for students with disabilities,

The student must have successfully completed at least 216 hours of CTE coursework and/or work-based learning experiences (of which at least 54 hours must be in work-based learning experiences)

To expect that a school can use the CDOS credential as a replacement for the Global Studies Regents is overreaching.

The re-scoring resolution is based on an assumption: the original grading was inaccurate and the new grading, the re-scoring will result in a higher grade. From a statistical approach one would expect that of the inaccurate grades half would grant the students too many points and half too few. Why don’t we “rescore” all grades between 60 and 70?  We can increase and reduce scores if our goal is to have the most accurate scoring, or, is our goal only to increase scores?

Again, what is our “theory of change”?  Or, are the regents only interesting in increasing graduation rates?

What are the unintended consequences of the board actions?

Only 40% of our high school graduates are college and career ready (grades of 80 or above on the English Regents and 75 or above on the Algebra 1 Regents), meaning, the 60% who are not “college ready” must take non-credit remediation courses in college; even more disturbing: only 14% of Black students, 18% of Hispanic students, 6% of ELLs and 5% of students with disabilities graduate high school college ready. Staggering percentages of these students do not complete community college within six years and they leave with significant debt and without a college degree or certificate. (See “Completion Versus Readiness” power point here).

We can identify students in elementary school grades who are likely to either not graduate high school or barely graduate – are we targeting these specific students?

To once again quote Regent Johnson: what is our theory of change

Betty Rosa, aside from her service as a superintendent that included some of the poorest zip codes in the nation is a Harvard PhD and a deep thinker.  While the editorial boards have pilloried her and written her off before her term begins they are in for a surprise.  The core issues are not opt out versus opt ins, the issue is not untimed tests or the number of questions, the deeper question begins with a theory of change, how can the board, led by Betty, move to a system that graduates kids with the skills to enter the middle class?

With a board, half of whom have lived and breathed education for their entire professional lives and other board members who add other perspectives there is every chance that the regents can move beyond the dueling and petty bickering so admired by “if it bleeds it leads” journalism.

The board  has to choose a path, not determined by politics but determined by evidence.

I’m optimistic.

4 responses to “Chancellor Betty Rosa: A New Leadership Amidst Swirling Conflicts

  1. Good Luck to Dr. Rosa…Hint…make your own luck….If there is to be a continuation of policy making decisions based on the same old and tired modus-operandi, then Dr. Rosa’s run will be over before it gets started. While I do agree that there is ample room for change, this change cannot be born uniformly, or after the same gestation period for all of NYS’s school districts. Because of the “black hole” like disparities from school district to school district throughout our state, its time to differentiate our approach to how we can best make real change. Certainly our goals can be uniform, but how we get our school districts to approximate realization of those goals must be differentiated. Are the hindrances to pupil achievement the same in New Paultz NY as they are in Brooklyn NY? How does Geoffrey Canada do what hes doing, and a Renewal School near bye can’t even get close to him, is a valid enough issue that should warrant a review of how, in NYC are Renewal Schools organized, staffed and monitored. On the same subject, we know that some Renewal Schools seem to be on the way back. The greater question is, why are so many not? I would also think that were I in Dr. Rosa’s position, I would want to open and staff a NYC State Office of Education, responsive only to Dr. Rosa. These “consultants” would then be tasked with specifically monitoring and observing all aspects of operation of any school which receives state aid. IE, classroom observations, faculty and dept meetings, codes of safety and the implementation of any support programs.In that way, unlike the fairy tales told by the mayor and his chancellor, the truth would be known in Albany right away. There certainly is a readily identifiable workforce of retired and highly successful educators at the ready.Hands on monitoring always trumps faxes, narrative reports and phone calls.


  2. While I agree with most of the comments written, the one that continues to annoy me, because it is cited so often without thought, is the percent of college students who are college ready (40%). As an educator who has long followed this statistic, it is hardly worth making a fuss over. This number has remained unchanged for the last 30 years and the number of students who actually graduate from four year college is about half that number. As the focus on students attending college becomes intensified, the number of skilled workers become less and less. Computers and machines can take the place of some of these individuals, but not all. College is not the only answer. This elitist attitude will ultimately diminish the number of individuals who apply to technical programs that train people to be plumbers, carpenters, truck drivers, HVAC experts etc.. As it is those jobs are going unfilled because students are told that college is the gold ring! Let’s smarten up and encourage our students become productive citizens regardless of the path they take.


  3. The final result is what counts. Will all these changes improve a student’s educational achievement?

    Without solving the 80% of a student’s educational potential, the social economic factors like deep poverty. How can any educational policy changes result in any major improvement?


  4. I think you have phrased this moment of positive change in its most logical terms: hope amidst swirling conflicts. The world of technology/testing venture capital investments is indeed huge and multi-faceted — it will be a bit like fighting off an octopus.


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