The Board of Regents Convenes: An Agenda Filled With Contentious Issues (without a Commissioner)

As I arrived at the majestic, columned New York State Education Building at a little past 8 am I was surprised. There was a long line waiting to enter, many holding young children. As I was presenting my photo ID (required these days to enter government buildings) the crowd, with kids, pushed past security, unfurling signs and started chanting slogans. The crowd was anti-vaccination parents: the demonstration, unruly, constantly shouting went on for over an hour. When the regents meeting finally began three visitors in the audience interrupted and started demanding, I’m not sure what.  They eventually agreed not to interrupt and stood, arms entwined for the remainder of the meeting. BTW, the State Education Department and the Board has nothing to do with vaccination requirements for students, its state law.

Another year at the Board of Regents meetings, each month I trek to Albany to attend the meetings, its been almost ten years. I tweet at the meetings (@edintheapple), blog about the meetings and send my thoughts to individual board members.

Every state has an education policy board, in most states selected by the governor, in California the commissioner is elected in a statewide election. In New York State the 17-member board is elected for five-year terms by a joint meeting of both houses of the state legislature (150 Assembly and 63 Senate members), in reality by the Democratic members of the Assembly. Anyone can apply; all applicants are interviewed by legislators at public interviews. Thirteen of the seventeen members represent geographic sections of the state (Judicial Districts) and four are at-large. You would expect the appointments, to an unsalaried position, would be “political,” actually the members are always widely respected members of their communities. Currently six are former superintendents, two former teachers, a nurse, a healthcare executive, a doctor, a local magistrate, two lawyers, etc.  The board members serve on committees, all serve on P-12, other committees are Higher Education, Cultural Education, Budget, Professions and a few others.

The Regents set policy for all public, charter and parochial schools, as well as all colleges and non-college career training programs plus the fifty or so professions, including, medicine, dentistry, nursing, psychology, etc.

The Board selects a chancellor from among their members and also hires a state commissioner. MaryEllen Elia, resigned as commissioner at the July meeting, the Board appointed Beth Berlin, the long serving deputy commissioner as interim commissioner; a role she served when John King resigned. The search for a new commissioner could take months. How will the Board function without a permanent commissioner?

The agenda for the meeting is posted online a few days before the meeting. The first session of the meeting, the full board session is online for live viewing and archived; the committee meetings are not.

In the fall the Board, after long and intense discussions sets legislative priorities; the legislature convenes in January and approves a budget by April 1; a complex, and, at times, a contentious process. A few years ago the Regents appointed a work group to explore joining the Obama national initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper, Improving Outcomes for Young Men of Color.” The legislature included funding in the budget and the program has expanded across the state.. The first session was a review of the successes  of the program (see below)

“What Success Looks Like: Key Practices of Unscreened High Schools That Have Dramatically Improved and/or Consistently Surpass the New York State Graduation Rate for Young Men of Color”  (Click here for the Report),

My Brother’s Keeper program focuses on six milestones:

Getting a Healthy Start and Entering School Ready to Learn

  • All children should have a healthy start and enter school ready – cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally. Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade
  • All children should be reading at grade level by age 8 – the age at which reading to learn becomes essential.

Graduating from High School Ready for College and Career

  • Every American child should have the option to attend postsecondary education and receive the education and training needed for quality jobs of today and tomorrow.

Completing postsecondary education or training

  • Tuition dollars spent on postsecondary education must result in successful program completion and the creation of life-long opportunity. Successfully Entering the Workforce
  • Anyone who wants a job should be able to get a job that allows them to support themselves and their families. Keeping Kids on Track and Giving Them Second Chances
  • All children should be safe from violent crime; and individuals who are confined should receive the education, training and treatment they need for a second chance.

The Regents member engaged in a vigorous discussion: Can the MBK successes be scaled up in other schools around the state?

The agenda linked to a detailed review of MBK programs across the county

At the July meeting the members began a discussion of graduation requirements, including the exit exams, the Regents Examinations, which have been around since the 1880’s.

In the new, wonderful world of twitter the tidbit of news was the Regents were considering doing away with Regents Examinations. This month the discussion greatly expanded and clarified the efforts.

Excerpts from Chancellor Rosa’s column: “The rigid system is not working for everyone, and too many students – particularly our most vulnerable students – are leaving high school without a diploma. New York and other states are grappling with graduation rates that are improving too slowly, if at all, as well as achievement gaps that reflect pernicious and pervasive opportunity gaps.”

The Regents will appoint a Blue- Ribbon Commission “that will consider whether State exit exams, as a sole measure, improve student achievement, graduation rates, and college readiness; and whether adding other measures of achievement could better serve New York’s diverse student population as indicators of what they know and if they are career and college ready. Could those additional measures of achievement include things like capstone projects, alternative assessments, or engagement in civic and community activities?”

 Over the next two years the Regents will explore:

  • Access to multiple graduation measures for all students • Real-world skills necessary for post-secondary success • New York State exit exam criteria • De-facto tracking • Consistency of rigor for student learning • Preparing all students to successfully pursue college, careers, and opportunities for community engagement and citizenship • Barriers to equity

The entire initiative will be as inclusive as possible.

The purpose of the Regional Workgroups is to gather and provide input into the Commission’s review of research, practices and policies from constituents across the state to help inform the Commission’s work to create recommendations. • In each judicial district, a Regional Workgroup will be established to include the Regent, BOCES District Superintendents, the Big 5 City School Districts and a representative from SED to gather feedback from constituents and stakeholders, which can be inclusive of: student voices; advocacy groups; research agencies; workforce representatives; and others to be identified; in that region.

 Check out the entire link, entitled “Graduation Measures in New York State” here. 

Another presentation was a deep dive into the Grades 3-8 testing results.

The members expressed frustration, the scores are virtually meaningless, although required by the feds. Regent Cashin, a former Brooklyn Superintendent, explained how an error matrix could be useful: the downside, the loss in instructional time, the late release of the scores, the inordinate cost in dollars and student stress, was frustrating. See the very detailed Power Point below:

Measuring Student Proficiency in Grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Mathematics

Another section of the meeting dealt with establishing work priorities for the year. The Regents conducted a survey of their 17 members and identified eight areas and placed the areas in a priority order. Click here for survey results and priorities.

Other committee meetings discussed the process for establishing budget priorities to present to the legislature, including revising the Foundation Aid funding formula; the Cultural Committee discussed the role of libraries in the 2020 census, and the Professions approved a number of items.

At the end of the long, long day, as the members were exiting the building they were “greeted” by over 100 Orthodox Hassidic Rabbi’s protesting the requirement that parochial schools, in this case Yeshivas that receive $100 million in state aid, provide an education comparative to public schools. In June, the Regents passed “Proposed Regulations for Substantially Equivalent Instruction for Nonpublic School Students.  As one of staffers was leaving she saw the crowd of bearded, black cloaked men and uttered, “Jesus,” I responded, “Probably not,” although, at the Last Supper …..

Pass along any comments or questions.

2 responses to “The Board of Regents Convenes: An Agenda Filled With Contentious Issues (without a Commissioner)

  1. A Commissioner can be an Administrator and an Innovator. By definition a Commissioner of that bent becomes a Reformer. Quality Administrators are able to put in place streamlined governance practices and policies that address issues in a prompt and fluid manner. Innovative Commissioners are able to look at educational issues and address them in ways that others can’t conceive of.That act alone makes them Reformers. For instance, instead of race quota driving specialized HS admittance practices, wherein the # of minority students,entering those schools would equate to 80, and creating a new racial divide, here’s what the Innovator would do.The Innovator would reason that it certainly is true that too many of our bright and gifted Brown, Black and Latino kids are not being served with the type of educational enrichment opportunity that they deserve. The Innovator would reason that The 4 specialized HSs could never expect to have the utility to accept these large numbers of qualified minority kids. Ultimately the Innovator would come to the conclusion that with such a justifiable pre -requisite rational, the way to address this inequity, is to create MORE specialized HSs. Annexes or Satellites of the 4 parent schools. Thus the Innovator would have created 4 new specialized HS campuses with incoming freshman classes of 100 each or a total of 400 more deserving minority students, Each of the first 4 years would receive 100 freshman students for each of 4 succeeding years. Thusly, at their first graduation, 100 would graduate with 300 waiting in the wings. The Innovator would then take pause, smile and pass the torch to the next man/woman up. Thus we have the ultimate Reformer!


    • Great, Ken! Sucking all the “high performers” out of nonspecialized schools is a great boon to those schools and the children in them. Not! It’s bad enough that we have a tiered system. We shouldn’t be dreaming or “innovating” our way to even greater divides btw schools.


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