Now is the Time: Changing the Direction of Education in New York State

At the December Board of Regents meeting an issue arose in regard to the 4 + 1 alternative high school graduation pathway  (see explanation of the pathway here,) Chancellor Young asked how many students took advantage of the alternative pathway?  An excellent question: data should drive decision-making.

As the Board of Regents moves ahead with its Graduation Measures initiative, with serious discussion re eliminating or decoupling the Regents Examinations from the earning a diploma I asked myself: how many students pass all their subjects and fail to graduate because they cannot pass one or more Regents? Students in general education, special education and English as a New Language (ENL) tracks?

I contacted State Education and was told the state does not gather that information, and, yes, the lengthy graduation data presser does not include an answer to my query. I was told the data is available at the district level.  At the district level I asked a few principals, did any of their general education students meet all graduation requirements and fail to graduate due to the failure to pass one or more Regents?  The answer:  Hummm? You’re the first to ask me.

If you want to increase the number of home runs a team can hit bring in the fences or train the hitters to adjust their swing.  In an attempt to raise graduation rates we seem to have selected the “bring in the fences” approach.

Asking principals, what is the major reason for failure to graduate I’m told “failing classes” and “chronic absenteeism.” The State has addressed Students with Disabilities with a range of safety nets, the last is “superintendents determination,” if you pass all classes and cannot pass Regents the superintendent can certify the student for graduation with a local diploma.

Principals reported to me that English as New Language (fka, ESL) students who entered school in the middle and high school years struggle and some leave school, usually to go to work; with the exception of the International Network schools too many other schools fail to provide adequate instructional models.

The parents most adamant about opposing the Regents are middle class parents, and, the reason they commonly express is the pressure of taking a high stakes examination, what we have come to call Social and Emotional Learning – SEL

Should we move the “obstacle,” aka, Regents Exams, or work on increasing student confidence and readiness to take and succeed on examinations?

While the many “adjustments,” (reducing the English Regents to one day from two, reducing the content of the Global Studies exam from 9th and 10th grade to 10th grade only, exams untimed, “scaling” the scoring) increased the graduation rates; however, the percentages of community college students requiring non-credit remedial courses remains high and, disturbingly, retention rates are abysmal. The data says: we are graduating students ill-prepared for community college work.

Every week my e-mailbox is filled with reports from across the globe, I do my best to read, this week I received a report extremely relevant to our Graduation Measures discussions.  The Report, entitled Now is the Time should drive our discussions,

The National Conference of State Legislators report should guide Board of Regents/State Education Department policy initiatives,

Now is the Time

Well-prepared, effective teachers are treated like the professionals they are and have opportunities to grow throughout their careers without leaving the classroom.

Research has demonstrated time and time again that teachers and principals are the most influential in-school factor on student outcomes. The education systems we studied all were built on a corps of world-class, well-prepared teachers working in schools that are organized to develop their expertise. These countries take a systemic approach to developing teachers, with a common vision for teachers’ preservice preparation and ongoing professional learning.

Strong leadership fosters an environment where students and teachers thrive, innovate and succeed.

World-class school systems are built on world-class leadership. They require principals and district and state staff to have in-depth experience in teaching to create more trusting, professional relationships among teachers, principals and policymakers.

Principals in these systems support innovation, ongoing learning, collaboration and strong relationships.  These working conditions allow teachers to flourish, and student learning follows

Personalized and proficiency-based learning pathways for students give them the agency and support to move at their own pace.

High-performing education systems meet all students where they are and give them engaging personalized learning opportunities that speak to their interests, skills and goals. Students all move along a personalized progression of learning that provides all learners the support they need to learn material at their own pace, move on when they are ready and graduate to the next stage of education or work once they have demonstrated their knowledge and skills.

Supports for all students allow them to maximize their unique potential.

All the education systems we studied were built on a fundamental commitment that no child’s potential will be wasted. Some children and families require additional support, whether healthcare, childcare or financial support, in order to enter school on a level playing field with their peers and go on to thrive and achieve their potential.

Career exploration and work-based experiences promotes lifelong learning for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Leaders in high-performing jurisdictions view education as key to their future economic prosperity. Education is the engine that will propel them forward, and teachers are considered “nation builders.” For that reason, they incorporate world-class career and technical education (CTE), sometimes known as vocational education or VET, and often incorporating work-based learning, as a key component to build career pathways. The design of these CTE systems starts with a series of broad conversations about what kind of economy the jurisdiction wants to build and support. With that end in mind, the question becomes what skills and knowledge students need to be job-ready and what certifications are most valuable to incentivize.

Nonpartisan planning processes bring together all the players in the system to set broadly shared goals for prosperity and plan in cycles to meet those goals.

High-performing systems focus on the future—the future of students, the future of the economy, the future of their society and prosperity. It may sound simple, but what sets them apart is they focus on long-term planning rather than short-term wins. This requires discipline, clarity about vision and goals and a willingness to “reach across aisles” and work with different points of view. It also requires patience and the investment of time. This kind of model provides the nimbleness needed in a changing economy and an uncertain world

From the New York Times to the American Federation of Teachers there is agreement, college graduates are under-prepared, and the result is early exits.

 Teacher preparation programs must move from one term of student teaching to one year of a teaching residency, coupling college teacher prep programs and high needs schools and districts and place Teacher Centers in the partner schools. The Board of Regents/State Education Department sets the requirements and should begin to phase in teacher residency-based programs. Again, rather than “bring in the fences” provide better training.

In NYS Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are primarily housed within the 37 Bureau of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) Centers located outside the “Big Five” cities. Local high schools pay “tuition” for their students to take CTE classes, a disincentive for districts, and the CTE program in NYS has been broken for decades. NYC, on the other hand, has a wide range of CTE schools, a job development expert in charge and increasing numbers of programs and schools. 

Senator Schumer announced the new CHIPS law will provide a billion dollars over the next decade to construct a computer chips manufacturing site in the Syracuse-Rochester area, thousands of high paying jobs requiring technical skills. I asked what level of mathematics would be required, the answer: Algebra 2 as a baseline.

Currently few, very few students in the Syracuse/Rochester areas pass the Algebra 2 Regents: what does the Board of Regents/State Education Department plan to do to prepare students for this life changing opportunity?

Personalized learning, be it performance tasks or some other iteration, the current PLAN pilot is a sensible path, not as a replacement of standardized tests, as an instructional model, can students demonstrate skills and knowledge in a valid and reliable setting?

I hope the Blue Ribbon Commission will widen their cope and explore the changes in direction suggested by the Now is the Time report and my scribblings.

A song from the 1930s,

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