Does the New York State Education Department/Board of Regents Need to be Reimagined/Revised/Rethought/Reempowered?

The Board of Regents has its origins in the 18th century, and for many decades led the nation, especially the statewide high school exit examinations called Regents Examinations.

On July 27, 1864 the New York State Board of Regents passed an ordinance that stated in part that:

“At the close of each academic term, a public examination shall be held of all scholars presumed to have completed preliminary studies. . . .To each scholar who sustains such examination, a certificate shall entitle the person holding it to admission into the academic class in any academy subject to the visitation of the Regents, without further examination.”

The Board of Regents has made many changes to the Regents Examinations and high school graduation standards. Read an excellent summary here .

Over the Cuomo regency the State Education Department was starved of funding, and funding is totally within the discretion of the governor and the legislature. New York State has a deeply flawed system; schools are funded jointly by local property taxes and the state budget. For example in one district the assessed valuation of homes is $2 million and another $500,000, education dollars are dramatically different, rich districts spend substantially more then poor districts, a reverse Robin Hood; the state budget to an extent ameliorates the disparity.   Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and many rural districts struggle to pay heating bills while other districts have state of the art sports and computer facilities.  Cuomo budgets also reduced funding to State Education Department, a way of expressing his displeasure over an independent Board of Regents and State Education Department.

Leadership of the Board of Regent, chancellors, and the State Education Department changed every few years, from David Steiner to John King to MaryEllen Elia to Betty Rosa.

In New York State curriculum has been in the domain of school districts, while State Ed sets standards the curriculum is district-driven; the disconnect is reflected in NAEP (“the Nation’s Report Card”) scores. For example the 2019 4th grade math scores, (See NAEP by state here)

In 2019, the average score of fourth-grade students in New York was 237. This was lower than the average score of 240 for public school students in the nation.

New York State is in the lower half of the states while Massachusetts is consistently among the top five states (See Massachusetts NAEP scores here): why?

In my view the reason is continuity.

The Massachusetts Education Reform Law of 1993, state law requires all students who are seeking to earn a high school diploma, including students educated at public expense in educational collaboratives and approved and unapproved private special education schools within and outside the state, must meet the Competency Determination (CD) standard, in addition to meeting all local graduation requirements.

Students must earn a passing score on the grade 10 MCAS tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, and one of the high school Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests (Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, and Technology/Engineering) to meet their CD requirement.

Students who do not pass the MCAS tests in grade 10 may take retests according to these participation guidelines in grades 11 and 12 and beyond.

Students may fulfill the CD requirements through the standard MCAS tests or by submitting an MCAS cohort appeal or MCAS competency portfolio, which is an alternative method of student assessment that uses a collection of a student’s work samples to measure the educational performance of a small number of students who possess skills at or near grade level, but who cannot demonstrate those skills on the standard MCAS tests, even with accommodations, due to a significant disability.

The Atlantic reported,

The Massachusetts experiment with transforming public education traces back to 1993, when state leaders decided to set high standards, establish a stringent accountability system aimed at ensuring that students from all backgrounds were making progress, and open its doors to charter schools. And despite some hiccups, it was able to do so largely without all the partisan wrangling and interagency tensions that have notoriously confounded such efforts on a national scale.

Massachusetts is increasing the required score on the MCAS, the series of tests required for high school graduation.

A key section of the Massachusetts Education Department is the Center for Instruction Support, lacking in New York State.

The leadership in New York State handicapped by years of leadership changes, skimpy funding, a host of external organizations opposing all testing while others cry for maintaining rigorous standards.  The current Graduation Measures initiative is two years old, yes, COVID sidetracked, and at least a year to go with expectations Regents exams/graduation requirements may be modified.

New York State is a leviathan, 4400 schools, 700 school districts ranging from New York City, who basically declared their independence under Bloomberg, to Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, criminally underfunded.

Vocational Education, now called Career and Technical Education (CTE) should be a pathway to careers for many of our students; however, the current funding system actually is a disincentive to the creation of CTE programs, Regional BOCES Centers provide CTE classes and local school districts are charged a tuition, payable by the sending district. At the October 1st Regents Meeting staff acknowledged the issue, and bemoaned changes are required in law as well as in regulation.

We can point to glowing successes; My Brothers Keeper is a national model, the Internationals Network a bright star leading the way for Multiple Language Learners.

States can revise state education, the Kirwan Commission in Maryland will profoundly change education, if the governor follows the recommendations.

Governor Hochul, if re-elected, might be open to making the dramatic changes which are long overdue.

BTW, Alexander Hamilton was a Regent; Lin Manuel missed the opportunity for a great song.

The members of the Board of Regents, the Chancellor and Commissioner, are burdened with an antiquated system as well as a (former) governor and legislature embroiled self aggrandizing politics.

The Hamilton cast on the election of 2022

One response to “Does the New York State Education Department/Board of Regents Need to be Reimagined/Revised/Rethought/Reempowered?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    The basic problem with the current structure of the Board of Regents and the State Education Department is the near total absence of any meaningful accountability. The majority party in the state legislature packs the Regents with political appointments, diffusing and diluting responsibility and talent. In turn, the Regents appoint the Commissioner whose accountability is to their whims and prejudices rather than student achievement.

    Andrew Cuomo was correct in deriding such an appalling arrangement for the supervision of NYS schools. The current debacle in yeshivas is but the latest evidence of the Regents continued failure to guide and improve our schools.

    A complete overhaul of the state educational oversight structure is long overdue before another generation is sacrificed to its incoherence and incompetence. It needs to happen now and it needs to focus on establishing clear lines of authority, responsibility, leadership and accountability.

    Liked by 1 person

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