On one side of Washington Avenue stands the magisterial columned Department of Education building, across the street the Capital, housing the Assembly and Senate chambers and the Legislative Office Building (LOB), a few hundred feet and a yawning chasm.
The seventeen members of the Board of Regents are elected for five year terms by a joint meeting of both houses of the state legislature. In reality the Speaker of the Assembly “selects” the sole candidate after consultation with the Assembly members representing the geographic areas. In recent years the Republicans have boycotted the elections. Regent members are almost always re-elected at the end of their term – some Regents members have served for over twenty years.
Considering the political nature of the process, it is surprising that once elected the Regents members have very little, if anything, to do with the legislature, with a few exceptions (Regent Tallon was the majority leader of the Assembly and leads the State Aid Committee on the Regents).
The Regents come from a wide background: lawyers, a doctor, college professors, school superintendents, businessmen, etc.
I frequently hear: why aren’t the Regents only made up of educators?
The Department of Education has a portfolio much wider than schools. For example, the 825,000 licensed professionals, from dentists, to nurses and psychologists and social workers to massage therapist, are regulated by the Board of Regents. All university level teacher education programs are governed by Department of Education regulations as well as adult education programs.
The Regents members trek to Albany monthly for two-day meetings – the members are unpaid and have no staff.
The agendas are posted on the Regents website, many, many pages of reports that require Regents action, for example, the new school and district diagnostic tool .
At the July 22nd meeting a psychometrican, Kristen Huff, explained in detail the process for setting the cut scores, called “standards setting.” I doubt any of the Regents understood the firestorm that would burst a few weeks later.
Two/thirds of the kids “failed” the state tests.
31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
Additionally the large cities around the state, with the exception of NYC, had dreadful scores.
• In Buffalo, 11.5% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard;
• In Yonkers, 16.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard;
• In New York City, 26.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard;
• In Rochester, 5.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard;
• In Syracuse, 8.7% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard;
The die was cast!! Parents from across the state screamed, “Why am I paying astronomical school taxes if my kid is failing the state test?” “Whose fault is this?” “We like our teachers, our principal, and our superintendent,”
‘The commissioner and the Regents must be at fault.”
As the anger builds parents call their elected officials, “What are you going to do about the people responsible for my kids failing the test?”
Senator John Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education committee introduced four bills and held a committee meeting on the second day of the session – fast tracking the approval in the Senate chamber
“P-2 Bill” – which would ban standardized testing on students in Pre-K through 2nd grade;
“Unnecessary Testing” Bill – which would require the Commissioner of Education to expedite a review of APPR plans solely to eliminate unnecessary student assessments;
Privacy Bill – which would strengthen protections of personal information stored on the state-wide data portal, establish significant civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure of personal information and create independent oversight within SED on matters related to privacy; and
Truth-In-Testing Bill – would require the Commissioner of Education to report on the effectiveness of common core tests and require an independent audit to review and evaluate the common core testing program.
A number of Republicans in the Assembly (the minority party) introduced a bill to withdraw from the common core; however, Republican bills never see the light of day.
The purpose of this bill is to withdraw New York State from the common core and race to the top programs.
The common core program and the race to the top program are having a
detrimental impact on our children, parents, teachers, administrators,
and our school budgets. These programs have shifted the emphasis away
from actual learning, and instead have focused purely on testing and
Parents are demanding change, teachers are unhappy, how can you respond?
Over 10,000 bills are introduced in the Assembly each session, only a few hundred ever become law. The introduction of a law will clearly not pacify parents, especially when the next round of state tests will result in another round of low scores.
How can electeds win back their supporters? How can candidates use the issue to increase their chances of being elected?
An elected was musing,” how can we send a message, to the Regents and to parents? We can simply not re-elect incumbents – pick a new crop of Regents.”
On one side of Washington Avenue the State Education Department and the Regents debate and passes resolutions and implements policies, the commissioner moves ahead with the implementation of the common core, the principal/teacher evaluation plan and the data warehouse (In Bloom).
On the other side the legislature introduces, debates and passes laws, and, responds to their constituents.
The gulf is wide; each side of Washington Avenue ignores the other side. The commissioner and the Regents ignore the legislature: “we are the custodians of education in the state we have the responsibility to provide the best education possible for all children.” Legislators pointing to them: “We elected the Regents and they’re not responding to us, we have to do something about it.”
Maybe Mark Twain was prescient, “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made school boards.” –Mark Twain