The July Board of Regents (BOR) meeting traditionally is a retreat, in the past held at the New York State Museum and other sites. The Board discusses a major topic for the upcoming school year. This year the topic was high school graduation requirements including the required exit exams, the five required Regents Examinations. The Commissioner gives an update during the meeting. Commissioner Elia shocked the BOR members and the audience announcing she would be resigning effective August 31 to pursue other opportunities.
Elia was an activist commissioner who successfully grappled with creating a New York State Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, a plan that moved from assessing schools solely on proficiency to a mixture of proficiency and growth, in other words, crediting schools with improving student outcomes regardless of their base scores on state tests. Additionally skillfully guided the BOR through the rocky movement from rating teachers on student test scores to removing test scores from principal/teacher evaluations. Other issues were more contentious, increasing student teaching hours, moving away from the four required tests for prospective teachers, and moving from the 180 school day year to the 990 hour school year requirement.
The BOR members, former school superintendents and a number of former teachers are an activist board. Prior boards, non-educators, businessman, etc., acquiesced to the chancellor and the commissioner with only a few members questioning decisions.
Chancellor Rosa, a former New York City superintendent welcomed BOR members to participate in the debate, and the members responded. Debate is vigorous, stakeholders across the state included in work groups and blue ribbon commissions, thousands submitted comments on proposed regulations.
Contentious might be too mild a term, Op Out parents viewed Elia as unsympathetic and urged her to oppose testing more actively.
A major achievement is the New York State commitment to My Brothers’ Keeper, a core piece of the Obama education program.
With the adoption of the 2016–2017 New York State Budget, New York became the first state to accept the President’s challenge and enacted the My Brother’s Keeper initiative into law. The budget included a $20 million investment in support of the initiative to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.
New York State has a unique governance structure, a board elected by a combined meeting of both houses of the state legislature – effectively appointed by the speaker of the Assembly. Anyone can apply, open interviews are held and the local Senate/Assembly members make a recommendation to Speaker Heastie who has put forward the name suggested by the local electeds. Under the prior speaker the selection of BOR members was solely the prerogative of the speaker.
The governor plays no role and the education budget is set by the legislature and the governor.
In virtually all other states boards of education are appointed by the governor with consent of the state legislative body and the board selects the commissioner.
Under Chancellor Rosa BOR members have been “partners” with commissioner, partners that vigorously agrees/challenges/debates issues. The SUNY Board of Trustees, approves items with minimal debate. The BOR debate frequently moves from meeting to meeting, posted for public comment, amended, re-posted, the process can be laborious, consensus-building can be an arduous process.
The sudden resignation of the commissioner and the selection of a successor is challenging.
The Boston Globe reported that former deputy commissioner Infante-Green, who became the Rhode Island commissioner in the spring was offered the position, and demurred.
Beth Berlin, not an educator, was the deputy who actually ran the day-to-day operation of the State Education Department, was appointed as acting commissioner, and, some mused that Beth should actually succeed Elia with Rosa and deputy chancellor Brown playing a more activist role.
Berlin also demurred; announcing she would be resigning effective November 15th and moving on to another position.
Long Island superintendents are concerned, very concerned about the exodus of leaders at the State Education Department.
Three months have passed and the commissioner position has yet to be posted. It did take five months to search and hire Elia.
Should the BOR seek a national figure as commissioner to lead New York State? Or, would a national figure clash with an activist board?
Should the BOR select a current or recent senior New York State Superintendent with deep knowledge of the state, without any national credentials?
Does the ethnicity of the commissioner matter? Is it time for a Latinx commissioner?
Should the next commissioner be anti-testing? Willing to seek alternatives to required grades 3-8 state tests and alternatives to the Regents Exams? Or, will challenging testing also be viewed as challenging federal laws and endanger federal funding?
Should the next commissioner seek more aggressively the transparency of charter schools?
Should the next commissioner lead a Maryland-like Kirwan Commission?
As states around the U.S. grapple with how to improve their educational systems, Maryland is taking an approach that some experts call a blueprint for the whole country.
The state is on the brink of becoming the first in the country to prioritize equitable distribution of funds among school systems — if state leaders can overcome the hurdles of legislative bureaucracy and stay the course.
The state’s so-called Kirwan Commission has put forward a $4 billion education funding proposal that would increase teacher salaries, bring in more counselors, improve career preparation programs, give extra support to schools serving children who live in poverty and expand free, full-day prekindergarten.
And, would Governor Cuomo want a governance structure that mirrors other states and includes gubernatorial appointees?
A challenging role for the BOR members.
Sadly, Regent Judith Johnson has passed away – Judith dedicated her life to fighting for the underserved; at meeting after meeting she reminded her colleagues and the state that New York State was failing the most vulnerable children. The New York State funding formula drives the most dollars to the wealthiest school districts. She was the conscience of the Board.